Masters set for Moving Day part II
Moving Day came a day early at the Masters this year.
Saturday is traditionally the day when the pack shuffles itself for the final hand.
But while overnight leader Rory McIlroy remained impervious and edged two clear, the chasing pack, like a Tour de France peloton leaving the lone breakaway out in front, massed ready for the sprint.
The two most notable moves came from opposite ends of the experience spectrum.
Australian Jason Day, a 23-year-old debutant, was inspired by playing partner McIlroy and fired a stunning 64 to climb into second.
Rory McIlroy and Jason Day reflect on a job well done as they walk off the 18th
And Augusta saw a renaissance for its old master - four-time winner Tiger Woods, who served notice that the third major swing-change of his now turbulent career may be about to bear fruit.
Woods, bidding for a 15th major title and first at Augusta since 2005, charged to a nine-birdie 66 to go into the weekend tied for third with South Korea's KJ Choi, three off the lead.
The American has carded a second-round 66 in three of his four Masters triumphs and on the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus's 18th and final major title, the portents are ominous for Woods to close the gap on his countryman's record.
But that's getting ahead of ourselves.
Woods, who has slipped to seventh in the world, has shown glimpses of form this season, but only for one round of a tournament.
And it's not taking into account this new breed of young stars, who, while they might cite the former world number one's first Masters title as a 21-year-old in 1997 as their inspiration, have not come up against Woods in his pomp and are therefore untarnished.
"This is the next generation," said the 35-year-old Woods. "It's good to see these guys with that much enthusiasm and that much zest for the game. And that good."
It's not just the youngsters either. Woods was paired with Choi for all four rounds last year when they tied for fourth - the American in his first tournament back after a five-month lay-off following a sex-scandal - and will join up again on Saturday in the penultimate group.
"I've never seen a putting display like we saw last year," said Woods. "Best putting display for a 72-hole event I've seen in my life."
Defending champion Phil Mickelson is not ruling himself out from eight shots back, either, though he will have to equal the biggest 36-hole comeback, achieved by Jack Burke when he won in 1956.
The course is only going to get more difficult as higher temperatures -and the possible use of underground heating systems - speed it up and pin positions, on Saturday especially, are made considerably trickier.
And don't tell McIlroy, but only 30% of second-round leaders have gone on to win the Masters, the last being start-to-finish winner Trevor Immelman in 2008.
"There's so many guys with a chance to play themselves into the tournament," added Woods.
England's Lee Westwood shared the halfway lead with countryman Ian Poulter last year and, though he hung on to lead after the third round, he knows only too well how quickly an advantage can disappear at Augusta after Mickelson went on the rampage with an eagle-eagle-birdie run from the 13th for one of the most exciting ever Saturdays at the Masters.
Westwood, who climbed to five under after a 67 on Friday, said: "I sort of decided at the start of the day instead of Saturday being my moving day, I'd better make it Friday and try and get into contention.
"As well as Rory's has played, you don't want to get too far behind. Five is not that much, but I know better than anybody how quickly a five-shot lead can evaporate out there. On Saturday last year I was going down 11 with a five shot lead and about 45 minutes later was a shot behind.
"It's part of the value of being experienced and playing your 12th Masters and being in contention before - be very patient and expect the unexpected."
McIlroy, who Day described as "very, very mature for his age", produced an imperious display of front-running and played some glorious golf at times, holding his follow through to admire his second to the ninth for so long it looked like he had seized up.
And he weathered a mini storm, more a squall really, around Amen Corner just like he said he had learned to do following his second-round collapse at the Open last year.
"As we all know he's got an inordinate amount of talent," said Woods. "It was only a matter of time before he started to play like this is a major."
But the pack are snapping at his heels and one round, never mind two more, is a lot of golf left to play in a major championship.
"I need to start fresh, and play some good golf, not think about where I am on the leaderboard, or that it's Augusta National or the Masters," said McIlroy.
"I don't really care what anyone else does, I don't need to know.
"It's obviously going to be a lot of fun but at the same time I'm going to be nervous. But that's natural and you welcome that. It's what we play for."
And what we watch for. Moving Day part II, the sequel - playing at Augusta National on Saturday.