The two veterans seeking to become the oldest Masters champions slid down the leaderboard Saturday.
Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia are just two of a glut of superstars who have set the stage for an epic final two rounds at the Masters. With a par-bogey start on the hole this week, Garcia found the right second cut off the tee and then hit what he thought to be a good second shot, only to have it come out "soft" and end up short of the green. He bounced back with a birdie and stayed in the lead.
There is no room for error for Rose or Garcia, who share a one-stroke lead. He also has a U.S. Open title from Merion and an Olympic gold medal from Rio. And when he surveyed the landscape, he's not sure any of that matters.
Now it really gets fun at the Augusta National Golf Club. There are too many capable players.
"Being in contention and getting the job done at Honda just recently and playing well in these last few events has taught me to stick to my game plan", said Fowler.
The normally steady Hoffman, who led by two early midway through the second nine, dropped three shots to par in the final five holes Saturday, opening a door that England's Justin Rose and Spain's Sergio Garcia quickly walked through. This is, by far, the best I've felt in a major.
"I'm excited about the challenges that this weekend is going to bring, and hopefully I'll step up to them and I'll be able to be up there on Sunday with a solid chance at winning".
He said closing out a four-shout lead to win the US PGA Tour's Honda Classic in February has him in good stead for a Masters charge.
He went 29 straight holes without a bogey until a three-putt from below the ridge on the par-3 16th. There was no better example than his approach to the 13th from the pine straw from about 200 yards away.
Meanwhile, Mickelson kept himself within striking distance of his fourth Masters title, which would tie Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods for the second-most all-time. There were several key moments when he executed shots or made putts to keep his round going north, instead of south as it had so often in the past. On No. 15, he made a 4-footer for birdie.
After 36 holes, 17 players are within six shots of the lead. He went wire-to-wire to win in 2015. Spieth shot a 69 on Friday that included birdies on three of his last six holes to move into a tie for 10th, just 4 strokes back of the leaders. "I still had to hit a great chip to make 4", he said.
Hoffman, who started the day in the lead at seven-under par, was eight-under through five holes before a brutal six-hole stretch dropped him back to the pack.
Play resumes Saturday with Round 3 at 10 a.m.
A classic frontrunner, it will require an Augusta comeback for the ages for Spieth to don Green Jacket on Sunday.
That's the allure of Augusta National, and it's never more appealing than when so many top players are right there with a chance. That includes Garcia, who has had close calls in every major he has played except the Masters - until now. "It's the kind of course you have to make peace with".
Also among the big second-round movers were 2013 Masters victor Adam Scott, the Australian charging up the leaderboard with a solid ball-striking display. Rose was tied with McGirt until a bogey on 18. He's finished his prior three Masters T2, 1st, 2nd. McIlroy is even par for the day but one-over par overall, while Mickelson has gone backwards.
"This is Jordan Spieth's fourth Masters".
Spieth made putts of 26 and 13 feet for his last two birdies of the day to boost his confidence.