AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s what Augusta National does.
The secret sauce of the Masters is taking the game’s best players, adding equal parts risk and reward with a dollop of anticipation, and more often than not the result is a leaderboard that is as varied as it is venerable.
The 83rd edition is shaping up to be more of the same.
At intermission, the Masters' marquee is a roll call of the game’s most competitive and compelling at the moment. Pick a top player and the chances are good they are a good run through Amen Corner off the lead. But perhaps the most irresistible element of this cast of would-be champions is their emotional range.
From Brooks Koepka, who often appears on a carefree stroll, to Bryson DeChambeau, who seems to live and die with each shot, to Tiger Woods, who has turned competitive intensity and focus into art form, Friday’s leaderboard is a study in contrasting demeanors.
Koepka remained in the lead on Friday despite the kind of start that turns title hopes into regret. In fact, it was a drive at the par-5 second hole that sailed wildly left into what is known as the “Delta Counter,” the area left of the fairway that often leads to a big number, a missed cut and an early flight out of town. It was a gritty performance the rest of the way for Koepka, who birdied two of his final four holes for a 1-under 71 and share of the lead at 7 under par.
“Just go hit it. I'm not trying to hit it in the water. I'm not trying to hit it out of bounds. I'm not trying to hit it in the trees. I'm trying to hit it either in the fairway or right next to the flag,” said Koepka, who is a cumulative 50 under par over his last 10 majors contested. “I'm human. I'm going to make some mistakes, and you've just got to deal with it.”
Opposite Koepka is DeChambeau, who seemed in complete control through eight holes when he moved into the solo lead at 7 under. It all changed in a Masters minute, first with a bogey at the ninth followed by an animated double bogey at No. 10. Never one to pack his emotions away, DeChambeau had no interest in masking them after a second-round 75 left him at 3 under par.
“It just seemed like conditions at hand changed from what we normally are used to seeing. There's something else that changed and so we don't understand it yet,” DeChambeau said. “It's frustrating, because I executed everything to the best of my ability.”
And then there was Woods, stalking his way around Augusta National like it was 2005. On the edges of contention after making the turn at 1 under par, he rounded the second nine like, well, Tiger. Woods unleashed his signature fist pump following an unlikely birdie at the 14th hole from a piney jail left of the fairway to move to within two shots of the lead. But by the time he reached the 15th tee, he was back inside himself, a stoic as ever. The result: birdie at the par 5 to move within one stroke with a wild weekend looming.
We’ve all seen this delicate mix of passion and patience from Woods before.
“I was just very patient today, felt very good to be out there doing what I was doing,” said Woods, who shot 68 and sits 6 under par. “This is now three straight majors that I've been in the mix, and so it's good stuff.”
When play finally concluded at dusk, there were 17 players within four strokes of the lead held by a fivesome of leading men who cover every corner of the emotional spectrum.
Flat-liner and co-frontrunner Francesco Molinari moved into the lead with a perfectly Molinari round – five birdies, no bogeys, no stress – and he leans more toward the Koepka's decidedly low-key demeanor on the course.
“Really happy the way I played and the way we managed the strategy with my caddie,” Molinari said in his understated best. “But yeah, obviously still a long, long way to go, so let's see what we'll be able to do on the weekend.”
Jon Rahm has spent more than a year working on his temper, but his fire was on display throughout an eventful round for the Spaniard. At the eight hole, he sent his approach shot wildly right and into the pine trees.
“Hitting it in the hosel is never fun, ended up in the trees, saved a great par. But that kind of shook me up a little bit,” Rahm admitted. “Even though I hit it to 6 feet on 9, it kind of shook on my whole body and I was never the same during the round.”
Jason Day rounds out the leaders with a distinctly Woods-like approach to emotions – animated when you would expect him to be and seemingly indifferent otherwise.
It was a common theme on a leaderboard with an uncommon collection of contenders. It’s just what Augusta National does.