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First-timers make their mark at Augusta





AUGUSTA, Ga. — The old adage that experience matters at The Masters?

Jordan [Spieth] showed us that you don’t need a lot of experience to do well here,” Sergio Garcia said.

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Spieth finished second in his first Masters start at age 21 in 2014, then won it the next year. This year, three first-timers are doing their best Spieth imitations, sitting near the top of the leaderboard after two rounds.

Their résumés couldn’t be more different.

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Thomas Pieters, part of a four-way tie for the lead at 4-under par, is a 25-year-old from Belgium who competes on the European Tour. Pieters’s 68 was tied with Martin Kaymer for the second-lowest round of the day (Rickie Fowler shot 67). Pieters bogeyed the first hole but not another one the rest of the day, carding three birdies and an eagle on 13.

William McGirt might be the most unlikely name on the leaderboard. A 37-year-old journeyman from North Carolina who didn’t earn his PGA Tour card until 2011, McGirt followed an opening-round 69 with a respectable 73 to put himself alone in fifth place at 2-under. He has won just one tournament in his pro career, the Memorial in 2016.

And Jon Rahm, tied for seventh at 1-under, is a 22-year-old Spanish phenom who already has won his first PGA Tour event (the Farmers Insurance Open in January at Torrey Pines).

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Rahm had four birdies and one double bogey on Friday, and doesn’t seem to know that he’s too young to be in contention at the Masters.

“First-timers don’t usually have a great history at Torrey Pines either and I was able to win that. I kept that in mind,” he said. “There’s nothing that says I’m going to play bad or that I should play bad. Once you realize that you’re teeing off in the Masters, next to Rory McIlroy, who might win the Grand Slam this year, once I hit that moment is when I realized that I got comfortable with that.”

Still contending

This year’s Masters isn’t just about the kids, though. A couple of old-timers are still very much in the hunt — 57-year-old Fred Couples is tied for sixth at 1-under after firing six birdies on Friday, while 46-year-old Phil Mickelson is tied for 10th at even par.

Mickelson had crept to 3-under, within one shot of the lead, with a birdie on 13, but he finished 3-over on the final five holes. His putter let him down on Friday, with Mickelson missing short birdie putts at Nos. 6 and 8, and short par putts at Nos. 14 and 16.

Mickelson will be paired with Spieth for Saturday’s third round.

Couples, meanwhile, made the cut for the 29th time in his 32 starts at Augusta National. Ranked No. 1893 in the world, Couples finished tied for 89th in 2015 and missed last year’s tournament with wrist and back injuries, but rounded back into form in this year’s first two rounds. He punctuated his round Friday by coming inches from holing out from 171 yards on 18.

Over and out

Reigning Masters champion Danny Willett missed the cut by one stroke at 7-over. He carded a quadruple bogey 8 on the first hole on Friday, then bogeyed 18 to shoot a 78. Also missing the cut: Bubba Watson (plus-8), Jim Furyk (plus-7), and HenrikStenson(plus-8) . . . After carding eight bogeys on Thursday, including six in a row to start the back nine, Kaymer completed a bogey-free round on Friday, shooting 4-under with four birdies to sit at 2-over (tied for 16th) . . . Spieth parred the 12th and 15th holes on Friday, both of which have given him recent trouble. He carded a quadruple bogey on 12 in the final round of 2016, and another quadruple on 15 on Thursday . . . The first hole has been the toughest of the tournament so far, with golfers averaging a 4.634 on the par-4, 445-yarder. The hole has produced just three birdies through two days, with a course-high 80 bogeys, 11 double bogeys, and six “others.”

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin


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