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Koepka opens with birdie to grab Masters lead as Tiger lurks

By AFP
April 13, 2019

AUGUSTA, Georgia: Americans Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau renewed their battle for the Masters lead as second-round drama began Friday at Augusta National with Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy awaiting late starts.

Koepka sank a 10-foot birdie putt on the first hole to move ahead at seven-under par after he had shared the 18-hole lead with DeChambeau after each fired a six-under 66 on Thursday.

And US left-hander Phil Mickelson, who would become the oldest major champion in golf history with a win this week at age 48, opened his 100th career round at the Masters with a par that left him two adrift in third.

Fourth-ranked Koepka, who missed last year’s Masters with a left wrist injury, won the 2017 and 2018 US Opens and held off a late charge by Woods to claim last year’s PGA Championship.

With a Masters victory, Koepka would become only the third modern-era golfer to capture three of four consecutive major titles, joining Woods, who won four majors in a row in the 2000-01 "Tiger Slam", and Ben Hogan, who took the 1953 Masters, US Open and British Open.

It would also leave him needing only the Claret Jug to complete a career Grand Slam, something he could claim in July’s British Open at Royal Portrush. Only Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Gene Sarazen and Ben Hogan have completed the career Grand Slam.

DeChambeau, known for his scientific applications to shotmaking and putts, opened his second round with a par. Woods, a 14-time major winner seeking his first major title since the 2008 US Open, and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, seeking a green jacket to complete a career Grand Slam, were set to tee off in the day’s final two groups.

McIlroy struggled with a 73 to start while Woods opened on 70, just as he did in his first three Masters triumphs. Mickelson, a five-time major winner who turns 49 in July, is a few months older than Julius Boros when he set the current mark by winning the 1968 PGA Championship.

Nicklaus is the oldest Masters champion, winning in 1986 at age 46. Woods, a four-time Masters champion, returned from spinal fusion surgery last year and contended in the British Open and PGA Championship as well as snapping a five-year US PGA win drought by taking the Tour Championship title.

At 12th in the world, Woods is the highest-ranked player this week to have won a green jacket, this marking the first Masters since rankings began in 1986 where no one in the top 10 has won at Augusta National.

Australia’s Jason Day began the second round with a par and birdied the second hole despite aggravating a back injury before his opening round and requiring treatment from a physical therapist. He gritted through an opening 70 in quest for his second major title after the 2015 PGA Championship.

England’s Ian Poulter, seeking his first major title in his 60th career major start, began two adrift but opened with a bogey and followed with a tap-in birdie at the par-5 second to stay two strokes adrift in fourth.