Commentary

An arsenal of young guns at the Masters

Updated: April 8, 2011, 10:49 PM ET
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- He is 23, and yet the old man of the group. That irony was not lost at all on Jason Day, a first-time Masters participant who went low at storied Augusta National on Friday.

Playing with another "newbie'' in America's Rickie Fowler and Northern Ireland's boy wonder Rory McIlroy, Day shot a tournament-best 8-under-par 64 on Friday to climb the Masters leaderboard, setting up an interesting weekend.

Taking it all in was fellow Aussie Colin Swatton, Day's mentor and caddie who had a front-row seat to the future of golf. And at age 41, he joked about keeping up with the kids.

"I was huffing and puffing all the way around,'' he said.

Swatton was witness to an impressive display of golf over the first two days of the 75th Masters. The threesome has combined to go 23 under par over the storied golf course.

McIlroy, 21, leads at 134, 10 under par, followed by Day, 23, two strokes back. Fowler, 22, is tied for seventh, five back of McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman held steady, shooting 69 after his first-round 65, while Day climbed the leaderboard with his 64. Fowler wasn't as good, but impressive nonetheless.

"[Day] watched Rory and all he spoke about last night was how good Rory hit it and how he flushed it,'' Swatton said. "Even today, he was like, 'Rory's putting on a clinic.' I said he's probably saying the same thing about you. I think the back and forth between them, and with Rickie as well, was good for him.''

Day would be the first Australian to win the Masters if he could manage to win the tournament on Sunday.

And either he or Fowler could make some other interesting history with a victory. Both players are competing in their first Masters, and since the second playing of the tournament in 1935, only Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 managed to win in their first attempt.

And for Fowler, a win here would be his first professional victory; only Claude Harmon -- the late father of noted golf instructor Butch Harmon -- made the Masters his first victory on either the PGA or European Tours.

Then consider that the trio has combined to play in just 17 majors, and that this is just the third for Day.

Or that all mentioned in someway being inspired by Tiger Woods' 12-shot victory here in 1997 -- when they were 7, 8 and 9 years old.

Woods could only shake his head in amazement.

"I'm a little older now, I guess,'' said Woods, who is 35 -- and in contention after shooting 66 to climb from a tie for 24th to a tie for third, three shots back of McIlroy. "It's the next generation. It's good to see these guys out here playing and that much enthusiasm and that much zest for the game … that generation is going to be a fun one to watch and how it matures over the next 10, 15 years.''

[+] EnlargeJason Day and Rory McIlroy
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelJason Day, right, and Rory McIlroy brought new life into the Masters Friday.

Fowler is the player with the most ground to make up and perhaps the biggest mental hurdle to overcome in that he has no professional victories, despite a good bit of hype.

"We are trying to hit it inside and make more birdies than the other guy,'' said Fowler, who is in his second year on tour. "So I look forward to trying to sneak up on those guys this weekend and who knows, might be playing with one of them on Sunday.''

McIlroy on Thursday became the youngest player to lead (he co-led with Alvaro Quiros, who dropped back to a tie for fifth after a 73), the first round of the Masters.

He didn't make his first bogey of the tournament until the 12th hole on Friday -- the last player in the field to do so -- then made one birdie coming in to follow his 65 with a 69.

"It was fantastic,'' McIlroy said of the atmosphere. "Rickie and I got off to pretty good starts and Jason played great the whole day. And we sort of fed off one another. We got a bit of momentum going, and the crowd really got behind us on the back nine.

"It was great to see Jason shoot such a good score, he played really well all day. I didn't actually realize he was going that low until I looked at the board on 15. I think we really enjoyed it out there.''

Day is the oldest and least heralded of the group but he's in his sixth year as a pro and once famously said he thought he could one day overtake Woods and compete to be the No. 1 player in the world. Some lean years followed, but Day got his first tour victory at last year's HP Byron Nelson Championship.

He made five birdies on the back nine and his 64 equals the lowest score ever shot in the Masters by a first-time participant and just one off the course record.

"It was a lot of fun,'' he said. "I said to the boys this morning, Rory and Rickie when we were walking up the first hole, I said, 'You know what? I'm going to have to start paying people to yell my name out because everyone is yelling their name out.'

"It got a little bit better on the back nine, which was nice. The atmosphere was great and all three of us played wonderful.''

Leave it to the sage caddie to put it in perspective.

"Certainly playing with Rory helps,'' said Swatton of Day's round.

"This is his third time at Augusta. He knows exactly where to go. He was driving it wonderful and every iron shot was straight at the pin. It's pretty easy to see if you can go at some pins when the guy is knocking it stiff all day.''

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com