Justin Rose has the 36-hole lead at The Masters but, after an even-par round on Friday, these five golfers are in position to overtake him on the weekend.
When Augusta National Golf Club showed its teeth on Thursday to open The Masters in 2021, Justin Rose was a cut above the rest of the field, finishing with a 7-under 65 and earning himself a four-shot lead heading into the final 54 holes. But when conditions softened and opened the door for scoring on Friday in the second round, Rose found himself fighting to stay in the lead.
In the end, the Englishman grinded out an even-par round to maintain his lead, though that shrank to just one stroke with Will Zalatoris and Brian Harman nipping at his heels and a much larger chase pack behind him.
Rose is no stranger to being in the lead at The Masters, having held the first-round lead four times now. Yet, he’s never slipped on the Green Jacket on Sunday at Augusta. After Friday’s round and with some talented golfers lurking, you have to wonder if he’ll come up short once again. That’s not to say he won’t hold on, because he very well could. He is, after all, a U.S. Open champion and Olympic gold medalist.
However, with his second-round showing and a talented crop of viable contenders in striking distance, Rose can be caught on the weekend at Augusta. And these five golfers are my best bets as to who will be the one to do that over the final 36 holes.
5. Brian Harman (-6)
With all due respect to the phenomenal performance from Zalatoris as a debutant in The Masters, Harman is the better bet to catch Rose over the final two rounds of the pair, sitting one stroke off the lead coming into the weekend.
To be sure, Harman isn’t rife with experience at Augusta as this is only his second appearance — and he missed the cut his first time out. But the Savannah, Georgia native has been playing exceptionally well leading into The Masters, finishing tied for third at THE PLAYERS Championship before narrowly missing the semifinals at the WGC-Match Play with a barrage of birdies.
There’s no one part of Harman’s game that necessarily wows you, but there’s also not a true weakness outside of his lack of length off the tee. Couple that with a grinder’s mentality fit to weather a tough weekend at Augusta and he doesn’t feel like he’s going away on Saturday or Sunday.
4. Jon Rahm (E)
Sitting seven strokes back is certainly not an ideal position for Jon Rahm to be in entering the weekend. If you’re talking about players who have a legitimate opportunity to run down Rose and take The Masters lead, you would think they would need to be within three or four strokes. But most golfers don’t have the skill of Rahm, nor do they possess the ability to get blindingly hot in an instant to make some magic happen.
The simple truth is that Rahm hasn’t played all that well over the first two days at Augusta (by his standards, at least) and still shot a 72 when things were extremely tough on Thursday and another even-par round on Friday. If he finds his groove at any point on the weekend, especially with the possibility of weather softening the conditions further, the Spaniard could quite conceivably reel off two low rounds and jump Rose atop the leaderboard.
3. Xander Schauffele (-3)
Despite never winning a major championship, Xander Schauffele was among the favorites to win entering The Masters because of his previous performance in this type of event. It seems as if he thrives when the fields are the strongest, and they don’t get much stronger than at Augusta. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that, after shooting a 3-under 69 on Friday, he’s now tied for 12th and just four strokes off of Rose’s pace.
What should be scary for Rose and the 11 players ahead of Schauffele, though, is that he left meat on the bone in his second round. The Californian was clinically good striking his irons and wedges but made a criminally few number of meaningful putts with any kind of length behind them. And as a quality putter overall, that’s something that could change at any moment.
If it does, and if the ball-striking remains pristine, Schauffele is going to make a big move up the leaderboard.
2. Justin Thomas (-4)
Speaking of favorites entering the tournament, players who can get white-hot in a moment’s notice and golfers who have major championship pedigree, Justin Thomas checks all of those boxes. And how his first two rounds at Augusta have played out should mark him as a live threat to win The Masters for the first time in his career.
Thomas struck his irons well and gave himself plenty of great looks in spite of the tough conditions on Thursday, but similar to Schauffele and as we’ve seen before from JT, the putter wasn’t cooperating. So it was no surprise when he rebounded for a 5-under 67 on Friday to put him tied for sixth and just three strokes behind Rose after 36 holes — and that was even after missing an easy put on No. 18 to take a finishing bogey into the weekend.
Every year that he’s played at Augusta, Thomas has improved his finishing position. After getting into the top five last year, a win seems likely in his near future. He’s in a spot where he could pull it off this weekend.
1. Jordan Spieth (-5)
Of course Jordan Spieth is a threat to Rose. He’s back in the biggest way and clearly has eyes for another Green Jacket.
The comeback tour for Spieth has been rocky at numerous times, but he found his form over the past two months, culminating in winning the Valero Texas Open last week before coming to Augusta. And the form that he’s shown through two rounds hasn’t given anyone a reason to believe that he’s slowing down in his quest to fully realize his previously dominant form by ascending as a Masters champion.
Spieth’s iron play remains among the best in golf right now, and it’s been on full display. More importantly, he remains the game’s ultimate grinder and magician, constantly creating something out of nothing, recovering from bad spots and bad shots, and simply finding a way to remain in contention. Lurking just two shots shy of Rose’s lead, the narrative is almost too easy to write for Spieth to be the one that catches the 36-hole leader, overtakes him and reclaims his throne.