AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Moving Day is almost always the best 24 hours of any Masters, and that might be especially true in a year when the greens are on absolutely fire and weather could make them an even bigger problem than they were over the first two days. Friday's scoring average at Augusta National dropped significantly, partly because the wind that whipped for a while on Thursday laid down for Round 2.
On Saturday, though, well Saturday is going to be maybe the wildest day of all. Wind is expected in the morning, but it's supposed to increase as the day wears on. That means players who are deeper down the leaderboard could be facing easier conditions than the leaders. The result could be mayhem.
"I don't think you can ever figure this place out," said Bryson DeChambeau after shooting 67 to get to 1 under on the week. "There are so many things going on around here. The wind makes it diabolical. It's flying around through these trees and bouncing off the trees and making it feel into the wind when it should be downwind and vice versa. I don't think you'll ever be able to figure it out."
As the tournament started to take shape early on Friday afternoon, the best ball-strikers in the field began to reveal themselves. Obviously, leader Justin Rose (-7) is hitting it as well as anybody -- you have to be given how fast and firm this track is right now -- but others like Jordan Spieth (-5), Justin Thomas (-4), Tony Finau (-4) and Collin Morikawa (-2) began to mix it up as well.
With several of the top players in the world striking the hell out of it, a course that has flexed in every way imaginable and a dicey weather situation on deck, here are the top storylines to keep an eye on as the third round unfolds starting on Saturday morning.
1. Wire-to-wire? Going the distance at Augusta National is maybe the most mentally exhausting feat in all of professional golf. Rose has led for two straight days, but that's not always the best harbinger. His fight on Friday was impressive, but I expect the dam will break at some point.
Justin Rose currently leads by 2.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) April 9, 2021
7 players since 1980 - including Rose in 2004 - have led #TheMasters outright after rounds 1 and 2. Only one - Spieth in 2015 - went on to win that week.
2. Big early round: Remember that weather report from the top? If it holds, somebody is going to go off two or three hours before the leaders, post a number and it's going to look spectacular on Saturday night going into the final round on Sunday. Here are your top candidates.
- Patrick Reed (E)
- Jon Rahm (E)
- Tyrrell Hatton (+1)
- Scottie Scheffler (+1)
- Paul Casey (+1)
- Matt Wallace (+2)
- Webb Simpson (+2)
- Louis Oosthuizen (+2)
3. Young Willy Z.: It's been quite a 12-month run for Will Zalatoris, who will now be in the final pairing on Saturday with Rose. He's gone from Korn Ferry Tour standout to top 10 at the U.S. Open to inside the top 50 in the world to legit Masters contender a lot more quickly than anyone probably imagined he would (including him). Zalatoris talked on Friday about how the COVID-19 pandemic sped up his ascent because qualifying for the U.S. Open changed significantly; he got in and the top 10 finish there changed his entire trajectory. Things, as they say, are moving quickly, but he has the talent to hang for the next 36 holes even though he's playing in just the third major of his career.
4. Within four: That's the big number going into Saturday. Four out of every five winners come from inside that number after 36 holes. This year the list includes:
- Justin Rose (-7)
- Will Zalatoris (-6)
- Brian Harman (-6)
- Marc Leishman (-5)
- Jordan Spieth (-5)
- Bernd Wiesberger (-4)
- Justin Thomas (-4)
- Tony Finau (-4)
- Si Woo Kim (-4)
- Cameron Champ (-4)
- Hideki Matsuyama (-4)
- Xander Schauffele (-3)
If you combine it with my stat that nobody not named Tiger Woods has come from outside the top 10 after Round 1, then the two lists combined provide us with a pool that includes Rose, Matsuyama, Harman, Zalatoris, Kim and ... Spieth.
5. Cameron Champ history: He doesn't have the most staying power, but for Champ -- a Black man -- to win a Masters in which Lee Elder was honored for his place in the history of the game (as the first Black man to play in the Masters) would be incredible. Though it's one of the more unlikely storylines on the leaderboard right now because Champ's game is probably not as complete as you would like from a potential Masters champion, it's still a story worth rooting for on Saturday.
6. Does Finau hang? As one colleague said today, How wild would it be if Tony Finau's two wins were the Puerto Rico Open and ... the Masters? The talent is there, the game is there, and he's built for his course. But if you watched him leave a 5-foot putt short on No. 18 on Friday, you know why the doubt still exists.
7. Big Boy back? Bryson DeChambeau's 67 on Friday was spectacular considering how much he seemed to be grappling with this course. What do we get on Saturday? He'll go well before the leaders, and no matter what happens, his act will almost certainly remain the most entertaining spectacle at this event. I'm convinced anything is in play -- from 65 to 80 -- and he's the guy I'll be watching to pull at J.T. at The Players and bury a victory from deep (but not too deep) going into the weekend.
8. It's going to be Spieth, right? This is Jordan Spieth's tournament to lose. He might be two back, but he only has three guys in front of him, and everything is clicking. This entire week has felt very Spiethian, but Saturday will be telling. A 73 will be the end of his bid, but something in the 60s could mean driver's seat for him come Sunday. The best-case scenario involves a titanic tussle with Justin Thomas for a green jacket as Spieth tries to cap a three-month career resurrection the only way he ever wanted.
Jordan Spieth has been in the top-5 through 36 holes of a major championship 7 times in his career.— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) April 9, 2021
He's finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd every time, including all 3 of his wins.