Watson leads, Woodland wows at Masters
Gary Woodland of the United States watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during the third round of the 2014 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia - by Rob Carr
In a blistering display of shotmaking, Woodland matched the Masters record of 30 for the front nine, generally regarded as being the harder of the two nine-hole stretches.
And when he birdied the 10th to move from three over at the start of the day to four under, he was tied for second, three shy of Watson, who was still 90 minutes away from teeing off in pursuit of his second green jacket.
Sadly for Woodland, the feared trio of holes from 11 to 13 known as Amen Corner once again bared their teeth to snap his momentum.
A bogey at 11 was followed by a visit to Rae's Creek at the par-3 12th and a double bogey 5.
Watson remained the man to catch for Woodland and the 49 other golfers who made it through to Masters weekend at Augusta National.
The 35-year-old champion from two years ago blasted clear of the field on Friday with a five-in-a-row, back-nine birdie blast that briefly raised the roof on what was otherwise a relatively sedate day.
By the time the dust had settled, Watson was leading by three at seven-under-par 137 after rounds of 69 and 68, making him the only man in the field capable of creating Masters history by firing four rounds in the 60s.
Closest to him was quiet Australian Senden, who was at four under, with veteran Dane Thomas Bjorn, unheralded Swede Jonas Blixt, rising US star Jordan Spieth and, most menacingly, defending champion Adam Scott a further shot back.
The lean weekend field of 51 comprised an intriguing blend of old hands and young guns.
Five back of the lead, evergreen Freddie Couples, the 1992 Masters winner, led a record six 50-and-over players into the weekend. The old mark for Champions Tour-aged players to make the cut was four, most recently done last year.
Fiji's 51-year-old Vijay Singh, the 2000 Masters champion, and 56-year-old German Bernhard Langer, the Masters winner in 1985 and 1993, will be playing partners in the middle of the pack Saturday.
Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, and 56-year-old Scotsman Sandy Lyle, the 1988 Masters champion, tee off together early, Lyle on 148, one behind Jimenez.
And 55-year-old American Larry Mize, who chipped in from 140 feet on the second playoff hole to beat Greg Norman for the 1987 green jacket, is on 146.
Spieth full of confidence
Then there are the new kids on the block led by 20-year-old Spieth, who is one of 11 of the record 24 first-time Masters players to make the cut on four-over 148.
Spieth exudes all the confidence of youth, saying there is no reason he cannot become the youngest-ever winner of the Masters on Sunday.
A total of 17 players were grouped within six strokes of Watson in a leaderboard dominated by Americans, but still with an international flavor.
This year, for the first time since 1994, there was no Tiger Woods and no Phil Mickelson on the weekend at the Masters. Four-time winner Woods is absent through injury and three-time champion Phil Mickelson missed the cut for the first time since 1997.
First out on another day of clear blue skies and hot sunshine at Augusta National was former world number one and pre-tournament favorite Rory McIlory, who scraped into the weekend by sinking a nervy five-footer for par at the last on Friday evening.
The Irishman, playing with a marker, sped round he course in double-quick time and three birdies in the last four holes gave him something to smile about for what is certain to be another doomed Masters campaign.