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Brilliant Bubba sets standard with five-star showing

ESPN staff
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Bubba Watson narrowly missed out on a hole-in-one at the par-3 16th © Getty Images
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Bubba Watson is in prime position ahead of the weekend action at Augusta National after a second round of 68 moved him top of the Masters leaderboard at the end of day two, but Rory McIlroy finds himself 11 shots off the pace after he narrowly avoided the cut.

Watson, who donned the green jacket in 2012, leads the field at 7-under after a blustery afternoon in Georgia, which left the late starters, including pre-tournament favourite McIlroy, with few opportunites to close the gap.

Watson enjoyed a solid opening round of 69 on Thursday, having not dropped a shot during his first 18 holes. His momentum continued on Friday with seven pars and a birdie at the start of his second round, before he finally succumbed to a bogey on the 27th hole of his tournament.

However, Watson was not fazed as he blitzed the back nine with five consecutive birdies - the Masters record is seven, held by Steve Pate and Tiger Woods - to take a three-shot lead into Saturday. It would have been more but for an untimely bogey at the last.

"I am not really thinking about the birdies when I am out there. I am thinking about the shot at the time. Some of the fans were yelling, trying to get me mad, but I just kept my head down," Watson told Sky Sports.

"I'm just trying to hit greens because that means your first shot has to be good as well. I scored better today, but hit the ball better yesterday which is a funny thing.

"It is easier this year than last. When you get here as defending champion it is all about you. Everybody wants to talk to you, the Champions Dinner is all about you and it distracts from what you are trying to do. This year is easier to focus on what you are trying to do."

McIlroy endured a round littered with awful luck and poor errors which left him with virtually no chance going into Saturday. After only just missing defending champion Adam Scott with his wayward tee-shot at the 4th, he opted to return to the tee and make double bogey.

Another one followed on 10 and the Ulsterman finished with a 77, his chances of a coveted green jacket in tatters. While McIlroy putted to come back on Saturday, playing partner Jordan Spieth finished birdie at the last to move 3-under overall.

Scott, meanwhile, rallied on the back nine to save his card. Dropping back to even-par after his front nine, Scott made three birdies on his return to keep well within touch of the leader at 3-under and a shot off John Senden, who finished with a brilliant 68 to take outright second at 4-under.

Four birdies in his last five holes earned Thomas Bjorn a share of third place at 3-under, alongside the impressive Jonas Blixt, who shot 71 to add to Thursday's opening round of 70.

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Fred Couples became the only player to be in the top 10 after 36 holes for each of the last five years; he finished up with a 71, the same as yesterday, to sit 2-under. Debutant Jimmy Walker is alongside Couples after his 72, as is Jim Furyk, who is quietly going about his business after finishing with a well-deserved 68.

Stephen Gallacher and Kevin Streelman will both be back on Saturday following respective rounds of 72 and 71, leaving them 1-under for the tournament, with Kevin Stadler, Welshman Jamie Donaldson and Russell Henley.

Despite a spirited second round performance, which earned him a 2-under 70, Ian Poulter was left frustrated by missed chances. He now sits at 2-over for the tournament, along with fellow Brit Justin Rose, and said: "It was probably one of my best rounds at Augusta. In terms of ball striking, I hit a lot of great shots, but I'm walking off disappointed. As good as it was, I left shots on the course today which was very frustrating."

Lee Westwood went around in 71 to move back to even-par overall. Louis Oosthuizen, runner up to Watson in 2012, held a share of the lead at 4-under following an eagle three at 13, but a disastrous triple bogey 8 at 15 and bogey at the last dropped him back to even-par overall, alongside Matt Kuchar, who levelled out his opening 73 with a 71 on day two.

Henrik Stenson lies 1-over, with Brandt Snedeker and KJ Choi, while Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh and Hunter Mahan sit a further shot behind at 2-over. Francesco Molinari, 1-under after round one, carded a 76 to move back to 3-over while Darren Clarke and Sandy Lyle narrowly avoided the cut at 4-over, along with Jason Day and Jose Maria Olazabal - who claimed the green jacket for a second time on this day in 1999.

Rory McIlroy struggled to make a putt during his second round at Augusta National © Getty Images
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