AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Phil’s Army had pretty much surrendered by the turn Friday, even as their leader fought on.
There were six of them in matching gray T-shirts following Phil Mickelson the day before, but now only three remained. Hard to blame them because even though their favorite was playing decently, he was at the time 12 shots behind runaway leader Jordan Spieth.
Playing partner Rory McIlroy wasn’t faring any better. Winner of the last two major championships, he was 13 back and still had nine holes of the second round to play.
It was that kind of a day at Augusta National. A Masters that barely seemed underway already seemed out of reach for many in the field.
They were for the most part, still hopeful. This is golf, after all, when even Tiger Woods can implode seemingly out of nowhere.
Realistically, though, Spieth will have to start making some bogeys — and a bunch of them — for anyone to have a chance. He will have to come back to the field almost as quickly as he left it behind.
Then again, not every player was looking at things realistically.
“I’m still right there,” Woods insisted. “I’m 12 back but there’s not a lot of guys ahead of me. And with 36 holes here to go, anything can happen. ’96 proved that.”
Woods, of course, was referencing the infamous collapse by Greg Norman in 1996. But Norman was only four shots ahead of Nick Faldo midway through that tournament, expanding the lead to six after three rounds.
Spieth, after a record-setting first two rounds, was five shots up on Charley Hoffman and seven ahead of the next nearest challengers. That’s a lot of strokes, even if there are still 36 holes to go.
“It’s a long, long way from being finished,” said Ernie Els, nine shots back in seventh place. “A lot of work to be done still, so we’ll see. But he’s very, very impressive.”
Take away Hoffman — a journeyman in only his second Masters — and the leaderboard does boast an impressive list of names. Any of them are capable of putting up some low numbers, especially on a course playing soft.
Dustin Johnson showed that by setting a Masters record with three eagles, the last on No. 15 on a tap-in putt, on his way to a 67 that left him seven back.
“We still got 36 holes left, so that’s a lot of golf,” Johnson said. “Anything can happen around here. It’s a fun golf course, it yields a lot of birdies or eagles, but you can make big numbers, too. So you just never know.”
McIlroy made a late move of his own, shooting a 31 on the back to go from being in danger of missing the cut to finally getting under par. Like so many, he’s a ton of shots back — an even dozen — but like so many, he still harbors some hope.
Just not much.
“I would need to shoot a 14-under-par weekend and Jordan would have to play a couple average rounds, and neither of those two things look like they’re going to happen,” he said. “So it’s going to be tough.”
The men in the Phil’s Army shirts, meanwhile, might rethink their plans for the weekend. Seemingly going nowhere, Mickelson birdied four holes on the back nine to at least get his competitive juices flowing.
Mickelson finished with a 68 to get to within eight shots of the lead in a tournament he has shown he knows how to win.
“A lot can happen on this golf course, and he was playing some of the best golf coming into this tournament, he’s playing the best golf in the tournament,” Mickelson said “And I expect him to continue that. But you never know what’s going to happen in this golf tournament, and if something were to happen I want to be there. Be there to take over.”
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.