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Pieters continues ascent with share of Masters lead

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AUGUSTA, Ga. – Thomas Pieters may be playing his first Masters, but he has made the putt to win here before.

In his imagination.

“I’ve holed the winning putt about a million times,” Pieters said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move into a four-way share of the second round lead. “We’ve all done that. We’ve all practiced making the winning putt.”

As a first-timer playing the Masters, Pieters isn’t supposed to win, not this Sunday, not this year. No first-timer has won a green jacket since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

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Pieters, a 25-year-old from Belgium, was asked how daunting that history is for first-timers.

“It’s just a stat,” Pieters said. “As the best rookie on the Ryder Cup team, we lost. So, I don’t really care about that stat. It doesn’t affect me, no.”

Pieters, a star Ryder Cup rookie for Europe last year, is trying to buck other traditions to win the Masters. He’s trying to become the first player from Belgium to win a major championship. He’s the first player from Belgium to lead after any round of a major since Flory Van Donck led the first round of The Open at Muirfield in 1948.

Pieters won’t say he came to beat the odds stacked against him.

“As with any tournament, I just want to get within three shots on a Sunday afternoon,” said Pieters, who played at the University of Illinois. “Then you can really give yourself a chance.

“It’s a bit bold to say you’re coming here to win, and then if you don’t, you look like a fool. If I just get into contention on Sunday, that’s all I want.”

It’s been a wild ride to the top of the leaderboard. Pieters birdied five of the first 10 holes on Thursday only to give all those shots back over the final eight holes, where his stumble included a pair of double bogeys in an opening 72.

On Friday, Pieters fought to get it back in a round of three birdies, an eagle and a bogey. His eagle came at the 13th.