Trusting Day survives the blusters at Masters

AUGUSTA -- For most players, the wind won.

Through early rain and the late-day sun, the winds at Augusta kept blowing. They blew in spurts, gusting and settling. Good shots off the club met a stiff breeze before they dropped finding water and rough in place of fairways and greens. Uncertain, players switched clubs and over-thought shots.

Through it all, Jason Day came out ahead.

The Australian swapped places with countryman Marc Leishman atop the Masters leaderboard, firing a 4-under 68, finishing at 6-under. Leishman began the day 6-under, before giving up one stroke to the course. The ageless Fred Couples is also 5-under.

"The weather was probably the biggest factor," Day said. "It swirls so much there. And just going and being able to commit to the shot ... trusting that the wind is doing what it is doing, is the biggest key."

Day, who withdrew last year with an injury, had never led after a round at the Masters. He finished second his first time in 2011.

"I love this place," he said. "I want to peak at this event, because it's just the best tournament in the world and I really enjoy it. Not many people have been able to say they've had the lead a couple of times at the Masters. I'm just really looking forward to the challenge over the weekend."

No matter the weather, the weekend will be a challenge.

Angel Cabrera, Jim Furyk and Brandt Snedeker are all two back at 4-under, and included in the pack at 3-under par are Tiger Woods, Justin Rose, Jason Dufner and K.J. Choi. Sergio Garcia and Rory McIlroy are part of the troupe at 2-under.

There were just 25 rounds under par Friday as the course and weather surrendered 58 fewer birdies than Thursday. The stagnant scoreboard rewarded both the confident players like Day and the consistent ones like his playing partner today Fred Couples. The 53-year-old Couples, who led this tournament heading into Saturday last year, turned in a solid 1-under 71 with five birdies, including one to cap his round on No. 18.

"The golf course is brutal and I feel great about a 71," said Couples, who won the Masters in 1992. "You know, I did tee off Thursday with the idea of playing well and now it's Friday afternoon, late. I mean, I'm surprised, but I'm not like, you know, going to freak out about it.

"I would like to, you know, have another run."

And Couples isn't the only elder and former winner high on the leaderboard. Bernhard Langer, at 55, is 2-under, and 2009 winner and 43-year-old Cabrera shot 69 in the win. And, of course, Woods, who was near the top of the leaderboard until he hit the pin on No. 15 and his ball inexplicably ricocheted into the water, giving him a bogey. He followed the bad luck up with another bogey on 18.

"I really swung the ball well and didn't really get a lot out of this round," Woods said. "Granted, these conditions were tough."

Because the wind held even the best striking players down the leaderboard is a bottleneck at the top. There are 31 players within six strokes of the lead.

"There's a long way to go," Woods said. "We've got 36 holes and this is a tricky test."