By Paul Newberry Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bubba Watson likes the way he looks in green. He wants to get that color back in his wardrobe.
Watson surged to the Masters lead with a spree of birdies on the back side Friday, positioning him for a weekend run at his second green jacket in three years.
“I’m trying to get the jacket back,” Watson said. “I want that feeling again.”
The 2012 champion at Augusta National sparked the best run of the tournament so far when he stuck his tee shot at No. 12 within 3 feet of the cup. He tapped in for the first of five straight birdies that propelled him to a 4-under 68.
Even after making his second bogey of the tournament by missing a short putt at the 18th, Watson walked off with his second straight round in the 60s, a 36-hole score of 7-under 137, and a three-stroke lead.
“It’s not science here,” Watson said. “It’s try to hit the greens, and if you’re hitting the greens that means you’re obviously hitting your tee shots well. So that’s all I’m trying to do, just hit the greens.”
Look who’s in the mix again, too — 54-year-old Fred Couples, who posted his second straight 71.
This is the fifth straight year the 1992 winner has gone to the weekend in the top 10 — he was leading two years ago — but he’s never been able to hang on.
“I can’t panic,” said Couples, looking to become the oldest major champion in golf history. “You’re not going to pick up two or three shots here because you want to. It’s not that kind of course. You’ve got to hang in there, expect a tough shot here and there. It’s going to be a tough day tomorrow.”
Watson opened Thursday with a 69 and went bogey-free through the first 26 holes, finally stumbling at the ninth. But that bogey was quickly forgotten when he put on a dazzling display of the golf that had the patrons roaring. He took advantage of both par 5s, sandwiched around a curling, 40-foot birdie putt at the 14th that prompted him to throw both arms in the air.
Watson made it five in a row at the par-3 16th, pulling off another magnificent tee shot with the 9-iron, the ball rolling up about 4 feet short of the flag. He became only the fifth player in Masters history to run off nothing but birdies from the 12th to 16th holes.
A year ago, the left-hander finished in a tie for 50th last year as the defending Masters champion, his worst showing in five previous appearances. He likes being two years removed from his championship a whole lot better.
“I was in awe when I was the champion,” Watson said. “I didn’t know how to handle it the best way, so I didn’t play my best golf.”
Watson’s closest pursuer was Australia’s John Senden, who birdied 14 and 15 on his way to a 68 and 4-under 140 overall. Thomas Bjorn birdied four of the last five holes for a 68 that took him to 141 at the midway point. Also at 3-under was Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who rallied for a 71 after a double-bogey at the 11th.
Jimmy Walker, a three-time PGA Tour winner this season, shot 72 and was tied with Couples at 142, five shots back. Still on the course were defending champion Adam Scott, who was 3 under with two holes to play, and 20-year-old Spieth, also at 3 under after an eagle 3 on the 15th.
First-round leader Bill Haas, teeing off on a warm, sunny afternoon with the wind picking up and the greens getting firmer, was still at 4 under approaching the turn. Then came a miserable stretch of holes starting at No. 9: bogey, bogey, double-bogey, bogey, bogey.
Then there was three-time winner Phil Mickelson, who was just hoping just to make the cut.
It didn’t look good.
He had a triple-bogey at the 12th, where he knocked three straight shots in bunkers for his second triple of the tournament. Three birdies on the back side gave him a glimmer of hope to make it to the weekend, a 73 leaving him at 5-over 149.
“It’s tough to overcome those big numbers,” said Mickelson, who had not missed the cut at Augusta since 1998.