This Masters literally has the most loaded leaderboard ever

AUGUSTA, Ga. — If you wanted drama and star power for the weekend at Augusta National Golf Club, the 83rd edition of the Masters has more than delivered.

There is more star power atop the leaderboard than on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard.

Five players share the 36-hole lead, and each of them — Italy’s Francesco Molinari (2018 Open Championship), Australia’s Jason Day (2015 PGA Championship) and Adam Scott (2013 Masters), South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen (2010 Open Championship) and American Brooks Koepka (2017 and ’18 U.S. Open and 2018 PGA) — has at least one major championship title.

“It must have happened at some point, but this is really stacked,” Scott said. “I think it’s going to be an incredible weekend no matter what happens now. There are so many great players in with a chance.”

Actually, five players with major titles have never shared the lead after any round in any major. In fact, it’s the first time since the 2002 PGA Championship that any five players — with or without a major title — have shared the 36-hole lead at a major.

And, oh, by the way, Tiger Woods, with his 14 major championships, and Dustin Johnson, with his 2016 U.S. Open title, are only 1 shot back.

There are nine players within a shot of the lead through two rounds for the first time in Masters history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The previous record was seven. In each of those instances, the winner came out of that group: Bubba Watson in 2012, Jack Nicklaus in 1966 and Arnold Palmer in 1960.

Given the soft conditions and perhaps even more bad weather coming, it seems like any one of them is capable of doing something special in the final two rounds to win and slip on a green jacket at Butler Cabin come Sunday night.

“As long as you’re within a few of the lead going into Sunday, you always have a chance, especially around here,” Johnson said. “You can always make some eagles, you can make a lot of birdies if you’re playing well.”

The big names at the top aren’t the only players in contention. Ian Poulter and Jon Rahm are 2 shots back. Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and Augusta native Charles Howell III are only 3 behind. An even larger group, including Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, is still in contention at 3 under through 36 holes.

“Look, [Saturday’s third round] is a very important day, because there’s no doubt someone in this top 15, or a few of them, are going to play very well,” Scott said. “This is the best players in the world on the biggest stage that we all want to be in so badly. So [Saturday] is about getting really focused and keeping it all together, and just pushing along.”

Uh, what are you doing here?

Although you might recognize almost every name at the top of the Masters leaderboard on Saturday morning, one name might not be so familiar. South Africa’s Justin Harding, a five-time winner overseas, has never won on the PGA Tour.

Eight of the nine players within 1 shot of the lead have earned, on average, about $42.5 million during their PGA Tour careers. Meanwhile, Harding has made $20,160 in six PGA Tour events.

Harding, who qualified for the Masters by finishing in the top 50 of the Official World Golf Rankings, continued to play well on Friday, with a 3-under 69, which leaves him 1 shot back of the five co-leaders.

Harding said he couldn’t help but look at the scoreboards.

“I watched it the whole way around,” he said. “First time my name is on it, so …”

Weather warning

The weekend forecast for Augusta is precarious, to say the least. There’s a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms on Saturday morning, with a high near 85 degrees. Winds are projected to blow 5 to 10 mph from the south/southeast.

Sunday’s forecast is even worse, with a 90 percent chance of thunderstorms in the morning, some of them potentially severe. Highs are expected to be near 79 on Sunday, with 10- to 20-mph winds from the south.

The greens have been softer with rain on the first two days.

“I know they have been just pounded with rain throughout the past month, and honestly the golf course is holding up really well,” said defending champion Patrick Reed, who is 6 shots back after firing a 2-under 70 on Friday. “The greens are still nice, true and fast.

“And the only thing is with any type of rain like this is the wind lays down and guys are able to attack, guys are able to hit 5- and 6-irons at greens and being able to hold it. So even though it plays a little longer, any time the greens around here play a little softer it becomes a little easier.”

There hasn’t been a Monday finish since 1983, when Seve Ballesteros won for the second time.

When the key players hit the course

For a full list of Saturday’s third-round tee times, click here.

The other race for Butler Cabin

Four amateurs are among the 65 players who made the cut, which is the biggest field for the final two rounds since 64 made the cut in 1966.

It’s the highest number of amateur players to make the cut since 1999. Oklahoma State’s Viktor Hovland, the 2018 U.S. Amateur champion and a native of Norway, is currently the low amateur with a 36-hole total of 1 under.

“Obviously, you try not to think too much about the cut, but it is there,” Hovland said. “If you don’t play well the first two rounds you’re not going to be able to play the weekend. But I kind of view it as I played two rounds, there’s still two more to go.”

Hovland has a 1-shot lead over Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz, the Latin America Amateur champ. Japan’s Takumi Kanaya, the Asia-Pacific Amateur champion, is sitting at 3 over, along with UCLA’s Devon Bling, the U.S. Amateur runner-up.

South Africa’s Jovan Rebula (8 over) and Kevin O’Connell (4 over), the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, missed the cut.

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