English Ryder Cup team-mates Luke Donald and David Howell were catapulted into the spotlight at Augusta National as the two Masters rookies moved into a three-way share of the second round lead with American Chris DiMarco before electrical storms put paid to the day’s play at 4pm local time.
For the second day running – and for the ninth time in 15 events in the United States in 2005 – the weather was the comprehensive winner. Play in the delayed first round was only completed a lunchtime in Augusta and the second round barely started when the klaxon sounded to warn of severe weather.
Before the depressing sound sent the fans scurrying home, Donald had set the tone for the day with an opening 68 to trail DiMarco by one stroke after round one. Then it was the turn of Howell to catch fire before the rains extinguished his hopes of further progress.
After finishing his first round on Thursday before the rain delay, Howell set out in the second round in blistering fashion. Starting at the tenth, he collected birdies at the 10th, 11th, 13th, 15th and 16th to climb to five under par for the tournament.
With Donald making a birdie on the second hole and DiMarco parring the first, all three players headed the leaderboard by a shot from 2000 winner, Vijay Singh, who didn’t manage to hit a single shot in his second round.
Howell tore the heart out of Amen Corner with his superb play, reaching both the 13th and 15th in two after making birdie putts of four and a half feet and 25 feet at the tenth and 11th. Two putts at the par fives produced birdies and he hit a seven iron to six feet at the 16th and parred the 17th before play was abandoned.
Howell, winner of the 1999 Dubai Desert Classic and last year’s RBS Shot of the Year on The European Tour, admitted: “My expectations weren’t great because I wasn’t playing so well. I tried something different on Sunday and just had a good feeling after that.
“Coming here I would have been pleased to make the cut. Now I can aim a bit higher than that. Right now I am enjoying the whole experienced” added the Englishman, who has 12 of his family and friends in Augusta, including his 80 year old grandmother, Pamela.”
Meanwhile Donald acknowledged that playing on The European Tour and his first Ryder Cup appearance last September had helped him through his initial Augusta experience.
“It was a huge confidence booster” he said. “I think when I decided to rejoin The European Tour last year and went over and won a couple of times, that really gave me confidence going into The Ryder Cup.
“Then Paul Casey and I won the World Cup and it was just kind of a snowball effect and my confidence has grown a lot since then. I think all of those, any time you win, has a big boost on your confidence.”
Earlier, Frenchman Thomas Levet moved into a share of eighth place after round one on 71, alongside Retief Goosen of South Africa, Thomas Björn of Denmark and Australian Adam Scott.
Levet, who has missed five straight cuts on the US PGA Tour in 2005, was thrilled with his 71. He admitted: “I’ve been waiting for a round like this since the start of the season. That is my first round under par this year so this is now the start of the season for me!
“I think my game plan is suited to the bigger tournaments. I enjoy the strategy of planning your shots and not being too aggressive. It’s a good start.”
Among the players to finish on level par were Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke, England’s Ian Poulter and Padraig Harrington of Ireland. The Ryder Cup pair were satisfied with their start in the circumstances and Poulter admitted: “The more times you play here, the more you realise what is required and where you have to place the ball. I am right in there and really happy.”
Harrington, who claimed his first win on the US PGA Tour last month, said: “I’m happy enough. It’s good to see just where you are after the first round and it’s just a case of staying patient.”
European Tour Number One Ernie Els of South Africa carded a three over par 75 but said: “It’s not the ideal way to start the tournament but it could have been worse. I made some silly mistakes but I’m not out of it.”
Former winners, Bernhard Langer of Germany and Scotland’s Sandy Lyle both shot 74, while other champions José Maria Olazábal of Spain and Ian Woosnam, signed for 77 and 78 respectively.