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Bubba eases into weekend with 3-shot lead at Augusta National

Third Round Preview – 78th Masters Tournament – Augusta National Golf Club – Augusta, Georgia –

Bubba Watson slept on the 36-hole lead at Augusta National Golf Club.

Watson, who shot 68 in round two after rallying with five straight birdies between holes 12 and No. 16, tees off Saturday in the final pairing with Aussie John Senden at 2:45 p.m. local time. Watson (7-under overall) is eyeing his second Green Jacket after winning the championship just two years.

Certainly the favorite now among the final pairings, Watson already has a victory this year on the PGA Tour in February at Riviera. He also has two runner-up finishes (WGC-Cadillac and at Waste Management Open) and a T-9 in Match Play.

Watson leads Senden (68 on Friday) by three and four others at by four shots including defending champion Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth, Thomas Bjorn and Jonas Blixt. After three bogeys early his second round, Scott rallied late to shoot even par.

Bjorn and Blixt are paired together Saturday at 2:35 p.m. preceded by Scott and Spieth.

Bjorn, a veteran of 15 European Tour victories, has three career runner-up efforts in major championships. The sting of missed opportunities continues to drive him, but could catch up to him at Augusta. At No. 29 in the Official World Golf Ranking, Bjorn was 10th on the European Tour Money List a season ago with two wins.

Working against him, Bjorn has just one Top 25 since 2000 at the Masters.

Blixt and Spieth are both rookies at Augusta. Young and brash, both have tasted PGA Tour victories but the gravity of playing in a marquee pairing late on Saturday – moving day at Augusta – will test them.

Senden is coming off a PGA Tour victory at the Valspar Championship during the Florida Swing. The Aussie has always been a great ball striker, but the question will be whether or not his putter can hold up under Masters pressure. He has made just one cut here — finishing T-35 in 2013.

Several players made runs Friday as the leader board swings were massive. Expect more of the same on Saturday. Opening-round leader Bill Haas, who carded a 68 Thursday struggled Friday shooting 78. He is T-26 heading into the weekend.

Former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen reached 4-under overall after an eagle at No. 13, but gave it away with a triple-bogey 8 at the 15th hole. He finished with 75. Marc Leishman, who was T-4 here last year, reached 5-under in round two then carded three bogeys and two doubles in an eight-hole stretch. He shot 70-79 and missed the cut.

At age 54, Fred Couples is part of a group at T-7 alongside Jim Furyk and FedEx Cup leader Jimmy Walker, playing in his first Masters. Couples, a past Masters champion, was T-13 at Augusta in 2013.

Rory McIlroy made the cut on the number (4-over) leaving behind a host of high-profile players who missed a weekend tee time by a single shot including Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia, Webb Simposon and Charl Schwartzel.

Other Golf News:

  • Mickelson’s miss cut keeps him in third all-time in Top 5 finishes at Augusta. He has 10 trailing only Tiger Woods (11) and Jack Nicklaus (15). This Masters weekend will be the first without either Woods or Mickelson since 1994.
  • Bubba was a 25-t0-1 betting pick at Ladbrokes. Scott was the overall co-favorite at 10-1, while Senden (150-1) was a longer shot. Blixt and Bjorn were both listed t 200-1 before the tournament teed off.
  • Nick Faldo, an on-air commentator this week at the Masters, will tee it up next week at the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Faldo will make his first PGA Tour start (in a non-major) since 2006.
  • McIlroy, the last player to make the cut at Augusta, probably need to make the cut to stay in the Top 10 in the world rankings. At No. 9 heading into the Masters, Rory has the longest run of anyone in the current Top 10 at 168 consecutive weeks.
  • Nicklaus has the all-time record with 22 Top 10 finishes at Augusta. Mickelson’s missed cut eliminated his opportunity to reach No. 15 this week. He remains at 14 Top 10s in 22 tries.