Fleetwood and Willett take route 66 at Masters in search of American dream

A penchant for cardigans and hooped polo shirts – American galleries liken the latter to the Where’s Waldo? series on this side of the Atlantic – means Tommy Fleetwood’s passion for fashion has been the standout element of an otherwise quiet 2020. If the 29-year-old adds a Green Jacket to his wardrobe, sartorial elegance would combine with fulfilment of a childhood dream.

Fleetwood is seven under par, two from the halfway Masters lead, after rolling in a birdie at the 18th for a second round of 66. More fool anyone who forgot about the Southport man’s propensity to joust with the best in major championships. Form is only temporary.

“It’s been a tricky one, I haven’t played anywhere near where I’d like to play,” Fleetwood said of his year to date. “If you used the 2020 PGA Tour season, it was a disappointment at best but it’s been a strange year. I’ve had some great spells but I’ve had some poor ones. At the moment I feel like I’m doing good things. I felt like I played really well today and that’s kind of what I expected.

“We’ll see what turns up over the weekend. I feel like my game is in a good place. It’s nice to have my coach out here, it’s nice to have my wife out here. Just some familiar things that haven’t always been there this year, so I’m kind of in a comfortable spot.”

Fleetwood’s clear and present dangers are Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. Thomas produced one of the shots of the tournament, a wonderfully improvised chip from pine straw at the left of the 8th green, in setting up one of two closing birdies in succession. Abraham Ancer, the world No 21, and Cameron Smith, who finished fifth here two years ago, are due immense credit for reaching nine under but Thomas and Johnson are the standout names among the leading quartet after 36 holes. They also have something in common: there is a widespread and legitimate sense the American pair should each have more than a single major to their name, such is their ability.

Patrick Cantlay and Im Sung-jae are eight under having also completed their second rounds.

That Rahm is yet to break his major duck is, like the singular successes of Johnson and Thomas, obscure to many. The Spaniard is minus eight, but with a makeable putt to move to nine under when he returns to the 13th green early on Saturday morning. Hideki Matsuyama’s score and in-play scenarios are identical to Rahm. This event retains an element of disruption after Thursday morning’s storm.

Thomas’s Augusta record is curiously weak. “I know the golf course,” he said. “I know what to do, what not to do. I know the subtle nuances. I just simply haven’t executed it all and performed well.” Until now. Thomas’s key statistics are 66, 69.

Danny Willett, the 2016 champion, matched Fleetwood’s aggregate. Further representation for the flag of St George is provided by Justin Rose, who birdied his closing hole to join the seven-under party. Willett’s performance is worthy of special praise given he played his second round minus a driver. The Yorkshireman cracked the face on his first choice and was duly unhappy with the performance of the backup. “I don’t like tinkering,” Willett explained. “That driver is probably three years old, so that’s the only problem with not liking to change all the time – sooner or later something like that might happen.

“It’s nice to see everyone hitting it 340 yards out there and we’re hitting three wood. But on this golf course I play quite a lot of three woods anyway. I always have. This place for me has always been a second-shot golf course, and especially with how receptive some of these smaller tiers are, it kind of made it a little bit easier. You’re coming in with six iron instead of eight iron, your ball is still going to stop on the green, whereas in years gone past, that would have been a real big disadvantage.”

Brooks Koepka, who is five under par on a wonderfully congested leaderboard, described his performance as “sloppy”. Paul Casey will, like Rahm, finish his second round on Saturday morning as delays from day one continue to have an impact. Casey will begin at minus six, having covered 11 holes in one over. Bryson DeChambeau, who lost a ball at the 3rd, is battling to play the closing 36 holes. Tiger Woods remains four under after 10.

Having concluded his first round on Friday morning in a total of 75 shots, Rory McIlroy’s first priority was simply to make the cut. It should be clear by now that the Northern Irishman lives by higher standards. He rebounded brilliantly with a 66 to move to three under. History is now against McIlroy’s latest bid to complete a grand slam of majors, given Jack Nicklaus in 1986 was the last player to win the Masters from outside the top 12 at the halfway point. Nonetheless, McIlroy has demonstrated his ability to make ground. His talent level means he should not be without hope; a scenario boosted by the fact he will not have the hassle of returning early to finish off round two.

“I was playing so well coming in here,” McIlroy said. “Then I shoot 75 and think: ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ So I knew it was in there. I just had to trust things a little more, be committed. I turned it around nicely to at least give myself a chance.”

Phil Mickelson added a 70 to a 69 to lie four off the lead. When pressed specifically on his performance from the tee – he has a long-shafted driver in play this week – he replied: “Awesome. I’m driving like a stallion.” Mickelson already has three Green Jackets. Horses for courses.