AUGUSTA - A dazzling eagle at the par-five eighth was the highlight of Rory McIlroy's second round at the Masters as the Northern Irishman clawed his way back into contention after making a stumbling start on Friday.
Two bogeys in the first three holes wiped any hint of a grin from the world number two's face and he did well to salvage pars from outside six feet on the next four holes to remain at two over for the tournament.
McIlroy then struck a brilliant five-wood from 275 yards at the eighth, his ball bouncing off mounds to the left of the green before settling just three feet from the flagstick.
"Just a nice high draw," the 23-year-old told reporters after shooting a two-under-par 70 to end a tricky day for scoring at a blustery Augusta National on two-under 142, four strokes off the lead.
"I was surprised to see where it finished. You're looking to get a chip shot that close, so it was nice to get up there and see that ball pretty close to the hole."
Out in level-par 36, McIlroy birdied the 13th and 14th before bogeying the 16th, but signed off in style with a 10-foot birdie putt at the last.
"It was good," said the twice major winner, who will be eager to atone this week for his nightmarish final-round meltdown at the 2011 Masters when he squandered a four-shot overnight lead with a closing 80.
"I made a lot of good putts for pars on the front nine. I didn't play my best for the first few holes but the eighth hole really got me going, really kick-started me.
"Then I started to hit some really good quality shots. Anything under par today was going to be a good score and I stayed patient out there when I needed to. It was a good day."
McIlroy, who has not won a tournament in this year and lost his number one ranking to Tiger Woods, was especially pleased with his putting on Friday.
"The improvement from last night to today has been a big thing," said the Northern Irishman, who produced relatively poor form earlier this season following a lucrative but widely criticized switch in club manufacturers.
"I'm committing to my lines a lot better. What pleased me today was just not letting it get away from me.
"Two over through three holes and having par putts on the next four from outside six feet and being able to turn in even par was something I was very proud of today."
Asked to assess his position going into the third round, McIlroy replied: "I'm comfortable. I'm comfortable with my game, I'm happy with this position going into the weekend.
"And the conditions don't look to be getting much easier out there, so it will be nice to have a nice afternoon and look forward to tomorrow."
OLD TIMERS: Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer briefly made round two of the Masters seem like "Old Timers Day."
The two former champions fell back on years of experience to navigate the tough, windy conditions Friday at Augusta National, climbing steadily up the leaderboard as many of their younger, stronger rivals lost their grip headed in the opposite direction.
Couples, 53, who won his green jacket in 1992, followed up an opening 68 with an up-and-down round of 71 Friday to get to 5-under and one shot off the lead. Langer, 55, who won twice and whose first green jacket (1985) is older than more than a few of his opponents, notched his second consecutive 71 to reach 2-under and a tie for 14th.
"I mean, I'm surprised," Couples said, "but I'm not going to freak out over it."
Langer wasn't buying the surprised angle at all.
"Fred loves this place," he said. "He's played here 28 times and he's only missed one cut by one shot. This is his second home."
So much so that Couples, who was in much the same position after two rounds just a year ago, renewed his threat to retire on the spot if he won at Augusta National again.
"You asked me that last year and I said, yeah, I would quit. I'm going to quit when I win this thing, I swear to God," he said to laughter. "I'm going to retire. It's probably not ever going to happen, but I'm going to retire."
Of course, all the talk about experience can also get, well, old. When Langer was asked the third time recount something from his history at Augusta National, he promptly cut it short.
"I think this is my 30th," he said, chuckling. "I'm getting old."
LIVING ON THE EDGE: There were no tears but a few sighs of relief as Bubba Watson kept his Masters title defence alive on Friday just sneaking in under the cut with a wild one-over second round 73.
The galleries were treated to a day of classic "Bubba Golf", as Watson took fans on an Augusta National roller-coaster ride that featured six bogeys, a double-bogey and seven birdies.
A bogey on his final hole left Watson sitting on a midway total of four-over 148 and the cusp of an early Masters exit.
He was left holding his breath until leader Jason Day, playing in the last group, finally set the cut line at 148 when he parred the 18th.
"Oh, yeah, I had tons of those," laughed Watson, whose go-big-or-go-home approach has delivered plenty of thrills and spills. "That's what we call Bubba Golf."
Watson, who was left sobbing after his Masters win last year and again on his return to Augusta, might want to have another good cry after a second bad day on the tricky greens.
The notoriously fast Augusta greens have been, according to Watson, painfully slow this year leaving him, and others, scratching their heads.
"For the most part I was leaving them all short. That's the frustrating part.
"I play by feel. I'm going off of the years past, tournaments past, watching on TV, how fast it is and it doesn't have the bite to it like some guys are saying.
"This is not really the Masters that we're all used to seeing."
Despite just squeaking in under the cut and sitting 10 shots off the lead Watson was not ready to turn over his green jacket just yet.
"Nobody's really running away with it," said Watson, who has not won a title since claiming his first major a year ago.
"If it is windy, they start feeling the nerves, anything under par after tomorrow would be a great opportunity on Sunday."
FLYING THE FLAG: Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and David Lynn kept their country's flag flying high at the Masters on Friday as they stayed on track to earn England a first victory at Augusta National in nearly two decades.
It has been 17 years since compatriot Nick Faldo surged past Greg Norman to claim his third green jacket in the season's opening major and the English trio were well placed to follow suit after ending the second round three strokes off the lead.
World number three Rose and 13th-ranked Westwood each carded 71s while Lynn returned a 73 on a tricky day for scoring in the face of several tough pin positions as the breezes swirled amid the Georgian pines.
"I just need to warm my putter up," Rose, 32, told reporters after finishing at three-under 141. "I haven't made a putt in two days and I am where I am, so I'm very encouraged by that."
Rose has not won a title in over a year but has been ultra-consistent this season, recording top-10 finishes in his last three PGA Tour starts, including runner-up spot behind Tiger Woods at last month's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Westwood, widely viewed as the best player of his generation yet to win a major, has posted two top-threes in his last three appearances at the Masters and was delighted with his "plodding" play on Friday.
Lynn, who stunned the golfing world with a runner-up finish at last year's PGA Championship in only his second major appearance, followed his opening 68 with a 73 but was thrilled to remain in contention after playing "boring" golf.
"As we can see by the numbers on the scoreboard, nobody is running away with it, so boring is good."
LOOK WHO'S BACK: Argentina's former Masters champion Angel Cabrera scorched the back nine at Augusta National on Friday en route to a three-under 69 to sit two off the midway lead and in contention for a second green jacket.
Cabrera had looked headed for a disappointing day after back-to-back bogeys at four and five and his round stalled at two-over with six to play.
But the 2009 Masters champion suddenly found another gear, dropping birdies on five of his final six holes, including four straight from the 13th, for a four-under 140 that left him two shots back of leader Jason Day of Australia.
"For me, Augusta is never easy. Never, ever easy," Cabrera told reporters. "The big difference was that the back nine I was hitting very well off the tee, leaving my second shots close and I was able to make some birdies."
With four other top 10 finishes at Augusta, Cabrera knows exactly what to expect as he heads into a pressure-packed weekend in the year's first major.
Files from both Reuters and the Associated Press were used in this reportReport Typo/Error