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."