Darron Cummings / AP
Friday, April 11, 2014 | 12:57 p.m.
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Eager to win another green jacket, Bubba Watson surged to the Masters lead with a spree of birdies on the back side Friday.
Watson, the 2012 champion at Augusta National, sparked the best run of the tournament so far when he stuck his tee shot at No. 12 within 3 feet of the cup. He tapped in for the first of five straight birdies that propelled him to a 4-under 68.
Even after missing a short putt at the 18th and making his second bogey of the tournament, Watson walked off with his second straight round in the 60s, a 36-hole score of 7-under 137, and a three-stroke lead over first-round leader Bill Haas and Jimmy Walker.
"I'm trying to get the jacket back. I'm not the man anymore," Watson said. "I want that feeling again. I want it back."
The left-hander opened with a 3-under 69 and went bogey-free through the first 26 holes, finally stumbling at the ninth. But that bogey was quickly forgotten when Watson put on a dazzling display of the golf that had the patrons roaring. He took advantage of both par 5s, sandwiched around a curling, 40-foot birdie putt at the 14th. He made it five in a row at the par-3 16th, pulling off another magnificent tee shot that rolled up about 4 feet short of the flag.
"I thought it was in," Watson said. "I had a hole-in-one there during the practice rounds."
As it was, he joined David Toms, Gary Player, Geoff Ogilvy and Hale Irwin as the only players to run off nothing but birdies from the 12th to 16th holes.
Haas, who had an afternoon tee time, started with a bogey at the first hole, birdied the second and was even on the day through No. 8. Walker, who's had a breakout year with three wins on the PGA Tour, showed he's no fluke with a couple of birdies that took his score to 4 under approaching the turn.
Kevin Stadler was also at 4 under and briefly in the lead until a double-bogey at the 11th knocked back the second-generation player, the son of 1982 winner Craig Stadler. They are the first father-son duo to play in the same Masters.
Thomas Bjorn birdied four of the last five holes for a 68 that took him to 141 at the midway point.
But Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion who nearly won the Masters two years ago, was heading in the opposite direction.
After getting to 4 under with an eagle at the 13th, the South African ran into all sorts of problems at the other par-5 on the back side. His approach at No. 15 rolled back off the front of the green, plopping in the water. After a drop, Oosthuizen nearly overshot the green with his next swing and wound up three-putting for a triple-bogey 8 on his way to a 75, leaving him at 144 for the tournament and seven strokes behind Watson.
Oosthuizen lost in a playoff at the 2012 Masters, which is still remembered for Watson's improbable shot off the pine straw at the 10th hole.
Defending Masters champion Adam Scott, who opened with a 69, bogeyed three of the first five holes and suddenly found himself seven strokes off the pace.
Before Watson's run, Australia's Marc Leishman became the first player to reach 5 under when he birdied the first three holes. But he played the next seven holes at 6 over, including a double-bogey 6 on the ninth, to plummet out of contention. He finished with a 79.
Then there was three-time champion Phil Mickelson, who was hoping just to make the cut.
Lefty had a triple-bogey at the 12th — his second triple of the tournament — but three birdies on the back side gave him a chance to make it to the weekend. He shot 73 for a 5-over 149.
Making the cut shouldn't be a problem for 54-year-old Fred Couples, who shot 2-under 34 on the front side to get to 3 under overall. If nothing else, he was at least stirring up conversation about becoming the oldest major champion in golf history.