By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA - Overnight Masters leader Justin Rose overcame a poor start with three late birdies to reach the clubhouse clinging to a slim lead atop a crowded leaderboard while some late starters began to mount a charge at Augusta National on Friday.
Rose, who began the day four shots clear after torching Augusta National in tough first-round conditions, returned an even-par 72 that left him at seven under on the week and two shots clear of Australian Marc Leishman (67).
Austrian Bernd Wiesberger (66), who began the day nine shots back of Rose, had the day's low round after taking advantage of calmer conditions and much more receptive greens that opened the door to better scoring.
"Yesterday was, obviously, bright blue skies, sunny, warm, windy, so the greens in the afternoon when we played got quite crusty. You had to adjust to that, and some of the flags were really tough to get to, if not impossible," said Wiesberger.
"So today with a little bit of overcast, it feels like stay a little bit softer."
Rose, who withdrew from his last start a month ago with back spasms, reached the turn in three-over 39 and watched his lead evaporate but the two-times Masters runner-up did not panic and instead saved his best for last.
The 40-year-old Englishman reclaimed his lead with birdies at the par-five 13th, where he tapped in from four feet, before rolling in a 23-footer at the par-four 14th. Rose went on to birdie the par-three 16th.
Australian Cameron Smith, who picked up his second PGA Tour victory this year in Hawaii, was seven under through 13 holes and two shots back of Rose with five holes to play.
World number two Justin Thomas, a stellar iron player who finished fourth at last November's Masters, was five under through 14 holes and three shots off the lead.
Former champion Jordan Spieth, fresh off a win last week in Texas, was at three under for the second round and four shots back with five holes to play.
Defending champion and world number one Dustin Johnson was sitting one shot just inside the projected cut line of three over early in his second round.
Rory McIlroy, who made an inauspicious start to his latest bid to complete the career Grand Slam, also went out late and was sitting one shot outside the projected cut line.
U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau, whose bid to overpower Augusta National last November when he was the pre-tournament favorite failed, was also one shot inside the projected cut line late in his round.