AUGUSTA, Ga. — Jason Day limped out of the Masters last year before the end of the second round.
The Australian sprinted to the front this year, shooting a Friday-best 4-under-par 68 to claim the 36-hole lead over a leaderboard full of major champions, highly ranked players and a couple of players who seem as out of place as a dandelion in the pristine Augusta National fairways.
"I wish I could have played through the pain last year, but it was unfortunate I had the injury," said Day, who withdrew from last year's Masters because of an injured ankle. "It's really good to be back here. Being on top of the leaderboard right now is a great honor to have."
Directly behind Day are the duo of 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples, who will be in the last pairing with Day today, and Australian Marc Leishman, who counts beating his father 16 years ago as a 13-year-old in their club championship as one of his golfing accomplishments.
Two strokes back are 2009 Masters champion Angel Cabrera, 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk and world No. 5 Brandt Snedeker.
The seven players sitting three strokes back are Adam Scott, Jason Dufner, David Lynn, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, K.J. Choi and Tiger Woods.
"I know there's a lot of good players behind me that are going to play well," Day said. "I played great today."
Yet Leishman and Lynn, the Englishman who shot 6 under par Thursday and 1 over on Friday, are hanging with some of the biggest names in the game.
"To be up there with those guys is really cool," Leishman said. "They are great players, but I've got to compete against them and try to beat them. I can't put them on a pedestal.
"I think I've gotten better at that, but it's probably going to be hard the next two days."
Day may not be peeking at the leaderboards as often as his countryman -- "I've tried not to do that a couple of tournaments, and it just has not worked for me," Leishman said -- but he knows the names and the games that will begin before him today with the goal of surpassing his score.
And that list starts with Woods.
"I don't need to worry about him," Day said. "The moment I start worrying about other players is the moment I start losing focus on what I need to do, and when I do that, I'll start making bogeys."
Woods closed his round with a three-putt bogey on No. 18, the first of his 19-year career on the closing hole at Augusta National. He shot a 1-under 71 with an unfortunate break on 15 when his approach hit the flagstick and rolled into the water.
"My ball-striking was so good today," Woods said. "Even my misses were on top of flags. I really swung the club well and didn't really get a lot out of this round. Granted, these conditions were tough."
Rain spritzed off an on for about an hour, forcing patrons and caddies to open and close umbrellas several times. Then winds started swaying the tall Georgia pines and forcing players to take extra time before deciding on a club and a shot.
Only five players shot in the 60s on Friday: Nick Watney, Scott Piercy, Dufner and Cabrera each shot a 69 to go with Day's 68.
"The golf course is winning today," Couples said. "The pins were tougher. I thought today they went out there and they put most of the pins in, I thought, really hard spots."
Couples shared the 36-hole lead last year with Dufner at 5 under. They each shot a 75 in the third round, eliminating them from contention. They both want another shot at winning.
"I have to get the putter going a little bit better," said Dufner, who has yet to win a major title. "I've been hitting some wayward drives. If I had a bad drive, it's a really poor drive. I need to clean that up."
Couples just needs to keep it up. And if he does put another green jacket in his closet, Couples said, he'll hang it up -- the jacket and his career.
"I'm going to quit when I win this thing, I swear to God," Couples said. "I'm going to retire. It's probably not ever going to happen, but I'm going to retire."
Couples will need to get through two days, one Day and a dozen contenders first.
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...