Golf

Could 71 be Sergio’s magic number?

Until Friday, Sergio Garcia had never birdied the first three holes of a round at the Masters. Until he got to the 12th hole of his second round, he’d never hit a bunker shot as good as the one he hit there to save a par.

“I got a couple nice breaks, so things are happening at the moment,” Garcia said. “I want to make sure that I keep riding that wave and go out there tomorrow, be positive, be like I’ve been the first two days.”

Now there’s one more thing to check off the list for the 37-year-old Spaniard. He has played in 71 consecutive majors, dating to the 1999 British Open, and not won a single one of them, but he’s within striking distance heading into the weekend at Augusta National, tied with Rickie Fowler, Charley Hoffman and Thomas Pieters for the 36-hole lead at 4-under par.

“Having a chance is the best thing, and winning it, I’m sure it’s amazing, but for me, I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to be healthy, that I’ve been able to play so many majors in a row,” said Garcia, who fired a 3-under 69 on Friday. “So many majors in a row and giving myself a lot of chances to win them, that for me is already a win, and then, you know, if we can put the cherry on top, that would be even better.”

He’ll have to outlast a large group of contenders. Spartanburg’s William McGirt, who shot a 73 Friday, is in fifth place at 2-under, one shot ahead of a group that includes Fred Couples, Justin Rose and Jon Rahm. Previous Masters champions Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott are four back of the lead at even par.

This would seem like an odd place for Garcia to break his much-publicized majors drought. He’s missed the cut at Augusta National more times (five) than he has finished in the top 10 (three), but he played beautifully Friday, making birdies at Nos. 1, 2, 3, 9, 15 and 17 and hitting 13 of 14 fairways.

“I would have taken 1-under par before we started because the day was at least as tough as yesterday,” he said. “I’m very pleased with my round of golf.”

Garcia, who has won only two events since 2012, started the day six shots off the lead but posted six birdies to catch up to Hoffman, who was 7-under coming into his round but shot a 75 Friday.

“Made a bunch of bogeys, but that happens out here,” Hoffman explained.

Garcia made three bogeys, and he shook off each one, something he might not have been able to do in his younger, more impetuous days, he said.

“I have a lot more grays in my beard. I have a couple grays in my hair. Things have definitely changed,” he said. “I think that I’m a little bit calmer now. I think that I’m working on trying to accept things, like I said earlier, which can happen here and can happen anywhere. It’s part of golf. It’s not easy. It’s much easier to say than to do it, but that’s the challenge we always have, you know, making sure that you accept the bad moments or the bad breaks with the good ones, and kind of move on.”

Several of the contenders said Friday they expect challenging conditions this weekend even though the winds of Thursday and Friday are forecast to dissipate.

“I think that the course is going to play incredibly fast tomorrow,” Rose said. “By the time tomorrow afternoon comes along, the greens are probably going to be as fast as they have ever been, in my opinion. And Sunday, very much the same. Which is exactly how you want to play this golf course.”

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