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Four atop the Masters leaderboard at 4-under, many others in hot pursuit

rooz Four atop the Masters leaderboard at 4-under, many others in hot pursuit image

A day after Charley Hoffman shot what’s being called the most impressive first round in recent Masters history, things returned to normal at Augusta National Golf Club on Friday.
There’s a leaderboard that even the casual golf fan can get excited about.
There’s the rebel. Sergio Garcia , labeled the best player on the Tour never to have won a major, whose six birdies and three bogeys put him at 4-under.
There’s the villain. Thomas Pieters, best known for shushing the U.S. crowd at the Ryder Cup , who ignited his round with an eagle on 13 and birdie on 14 to finish 4-under.
There’s the fan favorite. Rickie Fowler , the second best player on the Tour never to have won a major, whose eagle on the second hole and four birdies and one bogey put him at 4-under.
And there’s the underdog. Hoffman, who shot an otherworldly 65 on Thursday under difficult conditions, and survived a run of five bogeys in six holes to finish at 4-under Friday.
William McGirt is two strokes back. Fred Couples and Justin Rose are among those at 1-under. Phil Mickelson , Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott are even.
It’s going to be a fun weekend as the weather starts to warm up and the wind subsides.
Trying to figure out who had the most interesting day is an insult to Augusta National, which can force any golfer into making an Oscar-worthy performance.
But Garcia’s 10th hole might fit. After he birdied four holes on the front nine (1, 2, 3 and 9) mixed in with one bogey, things on the 10th got a bit squirrelly.
He hit a bad tee shot left as did playing partner Shane Lowry, who promptly hit a provisional. They both were dressed in light-colored pants and blue sweaters. So, when they went near the trees on the left the scorekeeper got things mixed up. Garcia was given the penalty strokes.
“Yeah, I saw it at 13,” Garcia said. “The most important thing is I knew where I stood. I knew I wasn’t 1-under. I knew I was 3.”
Garcia bogeyed the hole as he did the 13th. But he birdied 15 and 17. He had a 6-footer on 18 for an outright share of the lead but missed it.
“I got a couple of nice breaks,” Garcia said. “So things are happening at the moment. So I want to make sure that I keep riding the wave and go out there (Saturday), be positive, be like I’ve been the first two days.”
Pieters, who starred at Illinois and won the individual 2012 NCAA championship, made a nice recovery from Thursday when he played the first 10 holes in 5-under and the last eight in 5-over. Friday he was a little more consistent. He bogeyed the first hole, his only one of the day.
He picked up birdies on six and nine but it was the 9-footer for eagle on 13 that jumped him on the leaderboard. He made a 4-foot putt on 14 for a share of the lead.
“I’m a bit tired,” Pieters said. “It has been a long two days. It has been pretty slow out there. But I’ve been hitting a lot of good shots the last two days, so it’s nice to see my stats, as well.
Pieters has modest goals for the next two days.
“I just like to get within three shots on a Sunday afternoon, three or four shots,” Pieters said. “Then you really give yourself a chance.”
No Belgian-born player ever has won a major.
Fowler would have the lead alone if he didn’t put the ball in a lateral water hazard on 15. It led to his only bogey of the round.
Fowler foreshadowed the weekend in rather deliberate terms.
“On weekends, I tend to try to walk a little slower, make sure we’re taking our time,” Fowler said. “My tendency is to kind of speed things up and go a little too quickly. So the more that I can slow down thoughts, my walking, and make sure that I kind of think through everything and not get too quick out there, that’s one of my keys.”
Hoffman was bound to come back to earth and he did, but not until he sailed through the first five holes, even picking up a stroke or two. Then on the sixth hole the putts he made on Thursday he started missing: 17, 5, 2, 7 and 2 feet, all led to bogeys. He was able to par the ninth.
“I started off great,” Hoffman said. “Hit the ball great. Just in the middle of the round, just didn’t hit good chips and wedge shots, and that’s the difference. Didn’t scramble that well. Made a bunch of bogeys but that happens out here. I’m just happy to be in a position to win.”
Hoffman righted his round on 13 chipping to eight inches and making the birdie on the long par 5.
Hoffman and Garcia will be playing in the last group Saturday and Pieters and Fowler will be in the penultimate pairing.
The next 27 holes should shake out the field and it’s likely a name not even under consideration will be found near the top.
There are 11 players within five shots of the lead, 27 within seven.
It’s the last nine holes, though, that will determine the winner.
john.cherwa@latimes.com
Golf Sergio Garcia Charley Hoffman Rickie Fowler Masters Tournament Adam Scott Justin Rose

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