AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bubba Watson made five straight birdies to snatch the lead halfway through the 78th Masters on Friday as some of golf’s biggest names, including Phil Mickelson, failed to make it past the second round.
While most of the world’s best golfers struggled to make par in the brutally tough conditions at Augusta National, Watson surged into contention for a second green jacket in three years.
He produced a masterful display on the back nine to grab the outright lead at seven-under 137 and hold a three-shot advantage over Australia’s John Senden.
Another four players, including the defending champion Adam Scott, were tied for third at three-under. The Australian (72) was joined by Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn (68) and Sweden’s Jonas Blixt (71) and American Jordan Spieth (70), who were among the record 24 rookies in the field.
Fred Couples, the 1992 champion, finished with a 71 to join Jimmy Walker (72) and Jim Furyk (68) at two-under while Mickelson missed the cut for the first time in 17 years after finishing at five-over.
The three-time champion missed out by a shot after making a mess of the treacherous 12th hole, where he landed in the bunker three times, and signing for a 73.
“I didn’t play great. I didn’t play bad,” Mickelson said. “I just had one bad hole there at 12. And I keep making these triples, they’re tough to overcome.”
Mickelson was not the only high profile casualty. Argentina’s Angel Cabrera, the 2009 champion and runner-up last year, missed out after finishing eight over.
South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel, who won 2011, also missed out along with the 2007 winner Zach Johnson and the 2008 champion Trevor Immelman.
With Tiger Woods absent, every Masters champion from 2004 to 2011 will be missing from the weekend while Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, who blew a four-shot lead on the last day three years ago, survived only after draining a six-foot putt on the last hole.
Watson, who won the championship in an epic playoff with Louis Oosthuizen two years ago, followed up his opening 69 with a four-under-par 68, matching the best score of the championship.
The maverick left-hander made his first bogey of the tournament at the ninth hole and also dropped a shot at the last hole when he missed a short putt, but reeled off five successive birdies from the 12th to seize control of the first major of the year.
“It’s not science here,” Watson said. “All I’m trying to do is just hit the greens, that means my tee shots are good and two putts, maybe throw in a birdie here or there.
“That’s really all I was doing and that’s what I’ve done the last two days and it’s worked out so far.”
Senden came into the first major of the year in good form after winning last month’s Tampa Bay Classic. He was two-over after four holes but stormed up the leaderboard with six birdies in his next 11 holes for a 68.
Scott made a shaky start, spraying his opening tee shot into a fairway bunker and dropping three shots on the front nine before three birdies on the back nine saw him settle for a 72 after his first round 69, the exact same scores he shot when he went on to win the green jacket last year.
“It was very difficult out there today,” Scott said.
Bill Haas, who led overnight after a first-day 68, tumbled down the leaderboard after shooting a 78, while South Africa’s Oosthuizen, who was tied for second after the first day, finished at even-par for two rounds after a triple bogey on the 15th.