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Rory McIlroy narrowed the gap on leader Jordan Spieth to one shot as he revived his Masters bid at Augusta National. By Jonathan Jurejko
McIlroy, aiming to complete a clean sweep of four majors, made three birdies in the final six holes to move to three under par after two rounds.
The Northern Irishman, 26, carded a one under par 71 before defending champion Spieth posted a two over par 74.
At one stage before his late rally, McIlroy trailed the 22-year-old American by eight shots.
The turnaround, facilitated by Spieth dropping four shots, tightened a leaderboard he had threatened to dominate.
Spieth and McIlroy go into the weekend as the final pairing after American amateur Bryson DeChambeau blew his chance of separating them on the 18th.
DeChambeau, 22, whipped two tee shots way left, eventually finding a suitable dropping position after long discussions with Augusta officials before holing for a triple-bogey seven.
New Zealand’s Danny Lee and American Scott Piercy are the nearest challengers to Spieth and McIlroy on two under.
Brandt Snedeker, Soren Kjeldsen and Hideki Matsuyama are one under, with England’s Danny Willett, Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Spaniard Sergio Garcia among those on level par.
With swirling winds continuing to challenge the players, McIlroy was one of only four players in the 89-man field to shoot a below-par round.
The four-time major winner said his gutsy fightback was “up there” with the best rounds of his career.
“I kept my composure and I played the shots when I needed to,” he said.
McIlroy failed to capitalise on birdies on the second and third, compounding a double bogey on the next with further dropped shots on the fifth and 11th.
But the world number three, aiming to become the sixth man to claim the career Grand Slam, reignited his challenge with a birdie on the par-five 13th.
Further birdies followed on 15 and 16 before he saved his par on the last with a six-foot putt – greeted with a fist-pump – after a wayward drive right into the trees.
“It’s only the second day; there’s still two days to go,” McIlroy said.
“But it’s a great round and it’s nice to be up there near the lead going into the weekend, instead of on the cut line and having to battle back from where I found myself the last couple years.
“I’m happy with where I’m at.”
Spieth’s stutter offers hope
Despite the difficult conditions in Georgia, few would have predicted Spieth’s demise after he levered himself into such a position of strength.
An opening birdie was followed by another on the third, moving him five shots clear of the chasing pack after he began the day with a two-stroke lead.
But his normally immaculate putting failed him at the fifth, a four-putt leading to a double bogey and ending his record as the only player yet to drop a shot.
A birdie at the par-five eighth offered false hope to the Texan, who bogeyed the ninth and 10th before becoming annoyed at being timed for slow play as he waited for the wind to die down on his approach to the 11th.
Jordan Spieth carded his first over-par round in 10 career rounds at the Masters
It was a rare example of two-time major winner Spieth losing composure and, although he birdied the 15th, dropped shots on the 16th and 17th brought McIlroy within one.
Only Spieth’s plucky save for par from a bunker on the last prevented his rival from starting the weekend level.
“I thought even par was a good score today,” said Spieth, who has now led the Masters for six successive rounds – matching Arnold Palmer’s feat in the early 1960s.
“It was a couple of strokes higher than I was looking for. It was a bit disappointing but it is pretty much a new tournament coming our way over the weekend.
“It was a grind on each hole. Emotionally it gets you going a little. The person who walks the tallest will win next over the next couple of days.”