Masters leader Jordan Spieth teed off with a two-shot edge in Friday’s second round while South African major winners Ernie Els and Louis Oosthuizen made early charges at Augusta National.
With world number one Rory McIlroy in the afternoon’s penultimate group and Tiger Woods nine off the pace in his comeback after a two-month layoff, the spotlight belonged to Spieth, a runner-up last year in his Masters debut.
The 21-year-old American fired an eight-under par 64, one shot off the Masters and major low-round record, to lead by three strokes after Thursday’s opening 18 holes.
Spieth became the youngest first-round leader in Masters history, replacing McIlroy’s 2011 effort a few months older, and served notice with nine birdies that he is a clear threat for his first major crown.
Spieth has been the hottest player in golf over the past month, winning his second US PGA title in March at the Valspar Championship and finishing second at the Texas Open and Houston Open in the past two weeks.
Four-time major winner Els, 2013 US Open champion Justin Rose of England, three-time major runner-up Jason Day of Australia and American Charley Hoffman, Thursday’s first man on the course, all shared second on 67 when the day began with Spain’s Sergio Garcia and American Russell Henley another shot adrift.
Els, seeking the most coveted prize that has eluded him, birdied the par-5 second hole, dropping his approach two feet from the cup, and was six-under through four holes, two back of Spieth.
Els, 45, was second at Augusta National in 2000 and 2004. He won the 2002 and 2012 British Opens and 1994 and 1997 US Opens but has struggled in recent months and slid to 84th in the world rankings.
Also making a morning move was Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open winner. He dropped his approach two feet from the cup at the first to set up a birdie and followed by going over the green at the second but getting up and down with a six-foot birdie putt to reach two-under for the day and event.
Woods, a 14-time major champion, returned from a two-month layoff to improve his play after horrid short-game woes that led to a career-worst 82 at Phoenix and a withdrawal after 11 holes at Torrey Pines.
While Woods, 39, showed no signs of chipping troubles in round one, errant drives cost him dearly and the hope sparked by his healthy practice sessions dimmed a bit with a 73 in his first competitive round at the Masters since 2013, having missed last year for back surgery during an injury-nagged 2014 campaign.
McIlroy, who opened with a 71, seeks his third major victory in a row to complete a career Grand Slam by capturing his first green jacket. The 25-year-old from Northern Ireland seeks his fifth major victory overall.
Garcia, who has played 65 majors without a victory, and Rose, another late starter, each hope to become Europe’s first Masters winner since Spain’s Jose Maria Olazabal in 1999. – Agence France-Presse