AUGUSTA, Ga. — Bubba Watson likes the way he looks in green. He wants to get that color back in his wardrobe.
Watson surged to the Masters lead with a spree of birdies on the back side Friday, positioning him for a weekend run at his second green jacket in three years.
“I’m trying to get the jacket back,” Watson said. “I want that feeling again.”
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 making his second bogey of the tournament by missing a short putt at the 18th, Watson walked off with his second straight round in the 60s, a 36-hole score of 7-under 137, and a three-stroke lead.
“It’s not science here,” Watson said. “It’s try to hit the greens, and if you’re hitting the greens that means you’re obviously hitting your tee shots well. So that’s all I’m trying to do, just hit the greens.”
The left-hander opened Thursday with a 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 that prompted him to throw both arms in the air.
Watson made it five in a row at the par-3 16th, pulling off another magnificent tee shot with the 9-iron, the ball rolling 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.”
He is one of five players in history to run off nothing but birdies from the 12th to 16th holes.
Watson finished in a tie for 50th last year as the defending Masters champion, his worst showing in five previous appearances. He likes being two years removed from his championship a whole lot better.
“I could enjoy the Champions Dinner this time and listen to the stories. I was in awe when I was the champion, when it was my dinner,” Watson said. “I didn’t know how to handle it the best way, so I didn’t play my best golf last year.”
Watson’s closest pursuer was Australia’s John Senden, who birdied 14 and 15 on his way to a 68 and 4-under 140 overall. Thomas Bjorn birdied four of the last five holes for a 68 that took him to 141 at the midway point. Also at 3-under in the clubhouse: Sweden’s Jonas Blixt, who rallied for a 71 after a double-bogey at the 11th.
Fifty-four-year-old Fred Couples was still on the course and playing nothing like his age. Trying to become the oldest major champion in golf history, he was 3 under with three holes to play.
Jimmy Walker, a three-time PGA Tour winner this season, was also 3 under through 14, one stroke ahead of 20-year-old Jordan Spieth and England’s Jamie Donaldson.
First-round leader Bill Haas, teeing off on a warm, sunny afternoon with the wind picking up and the greens getting firmer, was still at 4 under approaching the turn. Then came a miserable stretch of holes starting at No. 9: bogey, bogey, double-bogey, bogey, bogey.
Kevin Stadler was at 4 under and briefly in the lead until he also double-bogeyed 11. The son of 1982 winner Craig Stadler staggered down the stretch for a 73 that left him at 143.
The other half of the first father-son duo to play in the same Masters was faring worse: Craig Stadler, 60, didn’t come close to making the cut in what he has said will probably be his final Masters, following up an 82 on Thursday with a 77.
Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 British Open champion who nearly won the Masters two years ago, also took a tumble.
After getting to 4 under with an eagle at the 13th, the South African hit the water No. 15 and ended up with a triple-bogey 8 during a round of 75, leaving him 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 shot 69 on Thursday, bogeyed three of the first five holes and was seven strokes off the pace as he made the turn.
So much for that comfortable feeling he had as defending champion a day earlier.
Then there was three-time winner Phil Mickelson, who was just hoping to make the cut.
He had a triple-bogey at the 12th — he knocked three straight shots in bunkers for his second triple of the tournament — but three birdies on the back side gave him a glimmer of hope to make it to the weekend.
He shot 73 for a 5-over 149.