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5 Thoughts On 'Moving Day' At The Masters

Tiger Woods hits on the fourth hole during the second round at the Masters golf tournament Friday.
Chris Carlson
Tiger Woods hits on the fourth hole during the second round at the Masters golf tournament Friday.

Saturday at the Masters golf tournament begins with American Patrick Reed holding a two-shot lead over Australia's Marc Leishman. Reed expertly handled the tricky, shifty winds and slick greens to post the best round of the day Friday – 6 under par 66.

He's the only golfer in the field to score both rounds in the 60's. Now that field has been whittled from 87 to 53 following yesterday's cut. Saturday, nicknamed " Moving Day," is when the tournament begins in earnest.

Here are 5 things to know as Moving Day begins.

1. Tiger's Down But Not Out

Pre-tournament publicity for four-time Masters champion Tiger Woods was off the charts – understandably so considering his improbable comeback from severe back problems that threatened to end his career prematurely.

Huge expectations led to Woods being tabbed one of the favorites at Augusta, even though he hadn't won a tournament since 2013. But his recent second and fifth place finishes were all Tiger fans needed. Alas, the expectations, so far, have proved too huge – his difficult 3 over par 75 in Friday's second round left him 13 shots behind leader Patrick Reed. "I hit my irons awful today," Woods said afterwards. "I didn't control my distance, my shape, my spins. I left myself in bad spots."

But .

No one is proclaiming the Tiger Woods' comeback over. Woods reminds eager reporters it was only six months ago he wondered if he'd ever play golf again.

You scan his face now for hints of a grimace after another violent swing, and it's not there. You look for a limp or a painful bend at the hip with hands on knees – not there. As long as the back fusion surgery he had last year continues to hold him together, Woods insists he will reclaim the game that once left the sports world in awe.

Can he do it the next two days in Augusta? It's a very tall order even he acknowledged after Friday's round. He said he has to shoot two rounds in the mid-60's, while a bunch of really good golfers fall apart. Probably won't happen. But as he said following his fifth place finish at last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida, "If I can play with no pain and I can feel I can make golf swings, I'll figure it out. I'm starting to piece it together tournament by tournament and each tournament's gotten a little bit crisper and a little bit better."

Woods fans are waiting for "crisper" and "better" in Augusta. If it doesn't happen, at least there's this – for the first time since April 2015, he made the cut at a major championship and got to play on the weekend.

2. The Leader

Twenty-seven-year-old Patrick Reed has never won a Major Tournament...but there would be some definite symmetry if his first were the Masters, in Augusta, Georgia. Reed went to Augusta State University, where he helped the men's golf team win the NCAA Division 1 title in back-to-back years: 2010 and 2011.

As Reed's professional career has evolved, he's become known as a fiery Ryder Cup competitor. His d uel with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy was a highlight of the 2016 team event

Reed is paired Saturday with Australian Marc Leishman, also trying to win his first major championship. Leishman's best Masters finish is a tie for 4 th in 2013.

3. Champions Are Lurking

For the most part, the Masters always brings out the best in the best. Not surprisingly, there's tremendous talent right behind Reed and Leishman. Henrik Stenson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas all have won at least one major title and all are considered among the best in the men's game.

A big part of the Masters' allure is its tradition ("unlike any other") and so what would an Augusta National leaderboard be without champions from the past? On this Saturday they are well represented with Vijay Singh (2000), Fred Couples (1992) and Bernhard Langer (1985, 1993) making the cut as well.

4. The Weather Will Be Frightful

Already the weather has had an impact on this Masters – while the Augusta National Golf course has appeared as picturesque as ever to TV viewers, the winds on Friday turned tricky and inconsistent. Players talked about being thrown off by the shifting breezes and how they sometimes had to wait to hit their ball until the winds resumed blowing in the directions that were expected.

But the Saturday forecast predicts even worse, plus rain. According to golf.com, tournament officials say showers are "likely in the morning, but by the afternoon the weather will turn worse with occasional heavy downpours and the potential for thunderstorms."

Bad news for Patrick Reed and all those others near the top of the leaderboard – their reward for working so hard and doing so well Friday, is a later start on Saturday. Later and, now it appears, soggier.

During Friday's broadcast of the Masters on ESPN, commentator and former player Curtis Strange, said, with maybe just a shade too much hyperbole, "with the weather forecast for the weekend, anybody who makes the cut has a chance to win. No telling what will happen."

One potential advantage to the rain – the water should soften up the greens and make them less treacherous. Perhaps meaning fewer putts gently tapped rolling across and off the greens; or maybe players will have an easier time spinning shots and having them stick on the green rather than scoot off. Too bad defending champion Sergio Garcia won't be around to take advantage of that. Garcia missed the cut after his golf balls did anything but stick on his disastrous 15 th hole during the first round.

5. Who wins? 6 is the magic number

As in six shots behind. According to this chart, players need to be within 6 shots of the lead after Friday to win the Masters. And this 2013 assertion plays out over the following years. In 2014, eventual winner Bubba Watson led after two rounds. In 2015, winner Jordan Spieth led after two rounds. In 2016, winner Danny Willett trailed the leader by 4 shots after two rounds. And last year, winner Sergio Garcia was tied for the lead after two rounds.

So? There are six golfers within six shots of Patrick Reed's halfway lead of 9 under par. They are Leishman, Stenson, McIlroy, Spieth, Johnson, Thomas. One of these seven men will win the 2018 Masters.

Unless of course Curtis Strange's prediction comes true, and the rain and wind turn the tournament completely upside down.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.