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Koepka grabs three-stroke lead at Masters

Brooks Koepka of the US plays out from the bunker on the 2nd hole during the second round. - Reuters
Brooks Koepka of the US plays out from the bunker on the 2nd hole during the second round. - Reuters

AUGUSTA, United States: Four-time major winner and LIV Golf rebel Brooks Koepka made an eagle and a birdie in an early charge to grab a three-stroke lead at the turn in Friday's second round of the 87th Masters.

Koepka had opened with a seven-under par 65, his best of 25 career rounds at Augusta National, to share the 18-hole lead with Spain's Jon Rahm and Norway's Viktor Hovland.

On Friday, Koepka made a nine-foot birdie putt at the par-5 second to grab the solo lead, then curled in a tricky 10-foot par putt at the third after chipping his approach over the green.

The 32-year-old American, a Masters runner-up behind Tiger Woods in 2009, rolled in a 13-foot eagle putt at the par-5 eighth to reach 10-under for a three-stroke edge.

Koepka, the fastest player to 10-under at a Masters since Jordan Spieth on his way to a 2015 victory, narrowly missed an 11-foot birdie putt on nine but settled for par.

After winning last week's LIV Golf event in Orlando, Koepka could produce the PGA Tour nightmare scenario of a victory by a player from the breakaway circuit, on one of golf's greatest stages.

Koepka was the only player among 18 qualifiers from the Saudi-backed LIV Golf League to crack 70 in the first round at Augusta National, where talk of the PGA-LIV split has been set aside by players so they can focus on winning the green jacket.

The PGA Tour banned players who jumped to the upstart series for record $25 million purses and 54-hole events. A court fight is set for early 2024.

Koepka, the 2017 and 2018 US Open champion and 2018 and 2019 PGA Championship winner, was in the fifth group off at Augusta National on Friday as a stormy afternoon forecast prompted officials to start 30 minutes early.

Koepka said his tee time, giving him a chance to finish before brutal wind and heavy rains arrive, was a bigger edge than his sizzling first round.

"I might be able to squeak out a few more holes than everybody else before it starts dumping," Koepka said. "I would say that's probably the biggest advantage I've got going for me right now."

Cold, windy and rainy conditions were also predicted for the weekend.

Third-ranked Rahm, the 2021 US Open champion, and world number nine Hovland launch their second rounds in the early afternoon among the final players to take the course.

"I'm feeling confident. Hopefully I can keep it going," Rahm said. "There's a long way to go."

Australia's Jason Day, the 2015 PGA Championship winner and a 2011 Masters runner-up, sank a tap-in birdie at the par-5 second and made another at the third after dropping his approach three feet from the hole -- putting him on 7-under.

"I look at that leaderboard, and it's like all the names are up there, which is fantastic," Day said. "More imperative to actually get off to a good start just because of what we're going to have on the weekend.

"It might end up turning into a marathon if we have a pretty wet, kind of windy conditions on the weekend."

World number one and defending champion Scottie Scheffler opened with a bogey to stand 3-under while US amateur Sam Bennett birdied the first to share fifth on 5-under.

Tiger near cut line

Woods, a 15-time major winner and five-time Masters champion, had a late start after struggling to a 74 on Thursday.

At 47, Woods said he isn't sure how many more Masters he will play, still pained by severe leg injuries from a 2021 car crash. He must fight to make the cut.

Woods has missed the cut only once in 24 prior Masters starts, as an amateur in 1996, a year before his record-shattering first major triumph at Augusta.

World number two Rory McIlroy, who needs a Masters victory to complete a career Grand Slam, opened with a par on Friday to stay on level par overall. -- AFP

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