Hopes of a third European Tour Member in five years slipping the Green Jacket around his shoulders remained high as five Members booked their place in the top 20 at the halfway stage of the 67th Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
Leading the way in second spot was Ireland’s Darren Clarke, the Ryder Cup player having held the lead after his superb opening 66. But although he could not quite repeat the fireworks in the second round, his 76 was good enough for a two under par total of 142, four strokes behind leader Mike Weir.
But Clarke was ably supported at the top end of the leaderboard by former champions José Maria Olazábal and Vijay Singh and the 1999 Open Golf champion Paul Lawrie who all finished on level par 144 and the reigning Open Golf champion Ernie Els who ended on 145.
Like the majority of the field, Clarke failed to complete his second round on Friday night and had to return on Saturday morning to finish his remaining eight holes.
It was unlikely that the Ulsterman could have picked a tougher hole to restart, namely the 490 yard 11th right in the heart of Amen Corner, and so it proved as his approach shot found the water to the left of the green and he stumbled to a double bogey six.
It dropped Clarke back to two under par for the tournament and when he also shed a shot at the par five 15th, he no longer held second spot on his own. But the Irishman showed courage to birdie the 17th to ensure he would partner Weir in the final group of the third round.
Sharing third place on one under par 143 is Phil Mickelson and the American Amateur champion Ricky Barnes while Lawrie, Olazábal and Singh are amongst a group of five players on level par 144, Olazábal and Singh having returned to complete 71s while Lawrie finished his second consecutive level par 72 to make the cut for the first time at Augusta National in his fourth attempt.
However, the move of the day was made by Els, who looked in danger of missing the cut after his disasterous opening 79, but who showed the class which has seen him win four times around the world already this year with a stunning second round 66.
The 33 year old South African came back to the course at four over par for the tournament but soon went about putting that right, birdies at the 12th, 14th and 16th in an excellent morning’s work, giving him the sight of his fourth Major Championship title.
While Els moved in the right direction, the same could not be said for the defending champion and the overwhelming pre-tournament favourite Tiger Woods who returned at two over par but finished his round at five over par, 11 shots behind Weir to only just squeeze into the final two rounds right on the mark.
After having found two bunkers at the fourth on his way to a double bogey five, Woods also bogeyed the sixth to set up a tense finish but he got up and down from sand at the ninth to maintain his remarkable run. The last time he missed a cut was in the 1997 Canadian Open.
But the man they all have to catch is Canadian Mike Weir, who finished last night with two birdies to move to six under in his quest to become only the second left-hander to win a Major Championship after Bob Charles who claimed the 1963 Open Golf Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Although Weir did not get off to the best possible restart when he bogeyed the fifth, he regained his composure and his four shot advantage when he birdied the eight to ensure he will partner Clarke in the final group in round three.