The crew at CBS and Augusta National couldn’t have drawn up a better Saturday if they had tried.
World No. 2 Jordan Spieth, defending Masters champion, and No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who has won four Majors in his short career but is lacking the Augusta title to compete the Grand Slam, are 1-2 on the leaderboard and will play together on Saturday.
With a chance to run away from the field on Friday, Spieth instead slid back with a 2-under 74 to sit at 4-under. Despite the sub-par performance, he tied Arnold Palmer for the most consecutive rounds (6) to be leading The Masters, following his wire-to-wire performance in 2015.
McIlroy finished fourth at Augusta a near ago, and tied for eighth in 2014. It is the only feather missing from his cap, as he has won the US Open (2011), Open Championship (2014), and PGA Championship (2012, 2014).
Gusting winds plagued Spieth’s round, and many of the other players in the field. For the first time since 2007 no player shot below a 70.
McIlroy tied for the low round with a 71, rallying down the stretch capped by a 40-foot putt for par on No. 16.
Spieth looked on the verge of a landslide win early on, birdying 1 and 3 before giving both strokes back with a double-bogey on No. 6. He was still at even par through nine, but bogeyed 10, 16, and 17.
McIlroy was just the opposite, sitting 1-over through 11 thanks to two bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 4, but rallied with his three birdies in four holes right around Amen Corner.
It’s hardly a two-man race heading into Saturday. Australia’s Danny Lee and the US’ Scott Piercy are tied for third at 2-under, with Brandt Snedeker, Soren Kjeldsen, and Hideki Matsuyama all three strokes back at 1-under.
Only four players were under par on the day, all with 71s – McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger, and Troy Merritt.
World No. 1 Jason Day is tied for 15th at 1-over, tied there with among others, 58-year-old Bernhard Langer, who has won Augusta twice – in 1985 and 1993.
The cut was set at 6-over, allowing players like two-time winner Bubba Watson (+6) to just slip in, while 4-time winner Phil Mickelson missed it with a 7-over 79 to fall to 7-over.