Spain's Sergio Garcia is heading into the weekend at the Masters in the best spot he's been in his entire career as he sits one shot back of co-leaders Fred Couples and Jason Dufner.
AUGUSTA — It’s a question Sergio Garcia hears often.
Once a rising star and certain major champion, the now 32-year old Garcia is still chasing the expectations heaped upon him more than a decade ago. He’s found plenty of success, but when results fell short of expectations the results became failures.
But here he is again, in contention at a major championship.
Garcia turned in a 4-under 68 on Friday to catapult himself to just one stroke back of co-leaders Fred Couples and Jason Dufner. It’s the closest to victory he’s ever been heading into the weekend at the Masters. He entered the weekend in the Top 10 in 2009, but he finished tied for 38th.
Still, even after his surge Friday, Garcia didn’t sound like a man convinced he was going to be in the final group Sunday.
“I don’t know if I am ready to win. I’ll see. We’ll see. … I wish I could tell you I am ready to win, but I really don’t know,” he said. “So, I’m just going to give it my best try, and you know, hopefully that will be good.”
It was an honest answer, and one created by a decades worth of missed chances.
Starting today, he gets another chance to right that long-off-course ship.
“(Major championships) ask for everything you have,” he said. “And if you are a little bit off, and you lose a little bit of confidence, it can cost you.”
RORY TAKES BACKSEAT TO FREDDIE: With plenty of questions for co-leader Fred Couples, the 1992 Masters winner’s press conference went on and on as his playing partner from Friday, Rory McIlroy, waited patiently.
Then a round face appeared in a small window in the door where the players enter and exit. Last year’s U.S. Open champion was due up next and stood stealing a peek at the man he trailed by one stroke.
Couples smiled and answered his final questions before giving way to McIlroy, nearly 30 years his junior — but just one stroke behind.
“It’s great to see him up there, it just adds spice to the weekend,” McIlroy said of Couples. “He’s just cool. I hope I’m that cool when I’m 52.”
NOT AMATEUR HOUR: Hideki Matsuyama is raising expectations for amateurs.
Matsuyama, who won low amateur honors after tying for 27th last year, became the first amateur in 30 years to make a second straight cut at the Masters. Jim Holtgrieve did it in 1981 and 1982.
Matsuyama also posted the best score of the five amateurs in the field, a 1-over 145.
“I did make the cut last year, so it was maybe a little bit more nerves this year, kind of not knowing if I was going to make the cut,” Matsuyama said through an interpreter.
Fellow amateurs Kelly Kraft and Patrick Cantlay also made the cut.
Matsuyama was one of the feel-good stories at Augusta National last year. A student at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, he was practicing in Australia when his city was hit by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the northeast coast. He debated whether he should even come to the Masters, but decided playing well here was the best way he could help.
And play well he did. Matsuyama was the only amateur to make the cut, and his 68 Friday was the lowest by an amateur since James Driscoll’s in the first round in 2001.
Matsuyama, who turned 20 in February, earned a return trip to Augusta by defending his title at the Asian Amateur.
“I had three goals before I came here, and the first one was to make the cut. The second one was to have a better score than I did last year. And the third one is to be in the Top 16 so that I can come back next year to the Masters,” he said. “The first one I was able to clear (Friday), so I’m going to work on those next two and hopefully get it done.”
DAY'S DAY, AND TOURNAMENT, ENDS EARLY: Jason Day, who tied for second at the Masters and U.S. Open last year, withdrew during the second round Friday with an injured left ankle.
The Australian was at 5 over for the tournament when he left Friday, after playing seven holes, and was 1 over for the day.
Day and Adam Scott finished two strokes behind Charl Schwartzel at Augusta National last year.
It was the best finish by a first-time player at the Masters since Dan Pohl in 1982.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report