AUGUSTA, Ga. — Scottie Scheffler strolled off Augusta National with both hands in his pockets as if he had just finished a casual round at home in the late afternoon.
The Masters was anything but that Friday.
The wind roaring through the Georgia pines gave so many golfers all they could handle, a relentless fight from tee to green. And then Scheffler made it feel even tougher.
His 5-under 67 matched the low score of the day and gave him a five-shot lead, tying a Masters record after 36 holes. The last four players who led by five shots going into the weekend went on to win. The lone exception was Harry “Lighthorse” Cooper in 1936.
That brought little more than a shrug from the No. 1 player in the world.
“I think I’m still playing against the golf course out there,” Scheffler said. “And there’s a bunch of other guys in he field. So I can’t be paying too much attention to them either way.”
Scheffler is beating them all, along with an increasingly difficult Augusta National.
“You live on a knife’s edge every hole, honestly,” said Adam Scott, who played in Scheffler’s group. “And I was playing with a guy who made it look easy. But that’s how he’s playing at the moment.”
In his debut as the new No. 1 player in the world, Scheffler looked the part. He was bogey-free over the final 15 holes, played smart from the fairways and trusted every shot he faced even as the wind was as strong as it was fickle.
Scheffler, the 25-year-old Texas Longhorn, has won three of his past five starts on the PGA Tour and doesn’t appear to be overwhelmed by the stage of Augusta National.
“I put myself in position, where I’m in position to win this golf tournament. I couldn’t ask for anything more after 36 holes,” Scheffler said. “My game feels like it’s in a good spot. I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing and not overthink things.”
He was at 8-under 136, five shots clear of defending champion Hideki Matsuyama (69), former champion Charl Schwartzel (69), former British Open champion Shane Lowry (68) and 18-hole leader Sungjae Im (74).
Former Masters champion Dustin Johnson (73) led a group at 2-under 142, while another bunch included two-time major champion Collin Morikawa and former PGA champion Justin Thomas, whose 67 matched Scheffler for low round of the day.
Two hours after the start of a glorious and calm spring day in Augusta, the wind arrived with a blast and players held on for dear life. Scheffler could see sand blow out of the bunkers. Flags were ripping. Scores were soaring.
“Felt like I went 10 rounds with Canelo,” Sergio Garcia said of champion fighter Canelo Alvarez. That was after a hard-earned 74.
Jordan Spieth hit two into Rae’s Creek and took triple bogey on the par-3 12th. At least this was on a Friday, though he wound up missing the cut when he made double bogey on the 18th. Scott was trying to stay in the mix until he had a wedge spin back into the water on the par-5 15th, hit the next over the green and took triple bogey.
Scheffler had no such troubles, even if it didn’t feel that way. “Definitely felt like I was in a fight today,” Scheffler said.
Scheffler got his mistakes out of the way early and began to seize control with two birdies right before making the turn. After a tough par save from right of the 11th green, he added two birdies from 12 feet on the par-3 12th and a tough pitch from well right on the par-5 13th.
By then, the wind began to subside in the late afternoon and Scheffler began to pull away with two more birdies that made him a clear and difficult target on the weekend.
And to think only two months ago he still didn’t have a PGA Tour victory.
Thomas, meanwhile, opened with a 76 and spent the rest of the day sulking at what looked to be a lost opportunity.
He capped off his 67 with three straight birdies along the back nine.
“I very easily could be going home right now, and not only am I not, but I’m in a really good spot going into this weekend,” Thomas said.
He was seven behind, nonetheless, though he wasn’t the least bit surprised Scheffler was able to post such good rounds to build a big lead.
“If I played how I should yesterday, I should be right there with him,” Thomas said. “This place, I love it because you can make so many birdies — even in conditions like this, if you plot your way around and know how to get it around, you can make a lot of birdies. It exposes you when it gets this windy if you don’t have control of your ball.
“He clearly has control of everything right now based off the last couple of months, so I’m not too surprised,” Thomas added. “But yeah, I would appreciate it if he would stop going too far away.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.