Bubba in command after Masters birdie binge

Bubba in command after Masters birdie binge

Bubba Watson, who needed 22 months to win again after a 2012 Masters triumph, birdied five holes in a row on the back nine Friday to seize command of the 78th Masters.

Bubba Watson of the US reacts after making a birdie putt on the 14th green during the second round of the 78th Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2014 in Augusta, Georgia

The 35-year-old American fired a four-under par 68 Friday to stand on seven-under 137 and grab a three-shot lead over Bill Haas in the second round at Augusta National.

There has never been a longer birdie run before the weekend than Watson's streak in Masters history and only five longer ones at any stage in tournament history.

Watson, who beat South African Louis Oosthuizen in a playoff two years ago to win the green jacket and his first major title, did not win again until capturing the title at Riviera two months ago.

"This year I'm trying to get the green jacket back," Watson said. "You want that feeling again. You want it back. Somehow I'm lost in the crowd. I can go through the practice rounds, not too much media attention."

He will have plenty of attention now.

After firing a first-round 68 to stand one adrift of 18-hole pace-setter Haas, Watson began Friday with six pars and a birdie at the seventh but closed his front nine with his first bogey of the tournament.

Watson, ranked 12th, began his birdie run with a five-footer on the par-3 12th hole and followed with another from 10 feet at the par-5 13th as he departed Amen Corner.

Watson curled in a long putt with 15 feet of break over slopes at the 14th, followed with a chip to eight feet to set up a birdie at the par-5 15th and rolled his tee shot, a 9-iron from 176 yards, to a halt five feet from the cup to set up a birdie at the par-3 16th.

A bogey at 18 dropped Watson one stroke closer to the field but his earlier heroics made him the man to catch.

Not since Tiger Woods ran off a Masters record-tying seven in a row starting at the seventh hole of the third round on his way to a 2005 title has there been a longer birdie run at Augusta National.

And not since David Toms ran off six in a row from the 12th in the last round in 1998 has there been such a run on the back nine at the Masters.

Haas was on four-under after six holes with Jimmy Walker, one of a record 24 players making their Masters debuts this week, at four under through eight.

No Masters newcomer has won the title in his first try since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979.

Denmark's Thomas Bjorn birdied four of the last five holes to stand on 144 after a second-round 68.

The 43-year-old Dane, ranked 29th, fired a 73 Thursday but moved up with a roller-coaster day, opening with back-to-back birdies before sizzling at the finish as well on a day with eight birdies and four bogeys.

Fred Couples was three under overall and two under for the day as he bids to become the oldest champion in major golf history at age 54.

Defending Masters champion Adam Scott and two-time major winner Rory McIlroy teed off in the last two groups.

McIlroy stood one under after three holes while Scott was one under through four.

Scott, who became the first Australian to win the green jacket last year when he beat Angel Cabrera in a playoff, opened on 69 but went off Friday in the penultimate group.

McIlroy, a fan and oddsmakers' favorite this week, was the last man off the tee after opening on 71, joined by US rising stars Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

McIlroy has proven most popular with the patrons in the absence of world number one Woods, who underwent surgery to repair a pinched nerve last week and is sidelined indefinitely.

Scott could overtake Woods atop the rankings with a two-way share of third this week.

Major champs face cut

American Kevin Streelman, the first man of the day to tee off, fired a 71 to stand on 143, good enough to stand in the top 10 as the last group departed.

"I really tried to focus on where to leave myself and where to not leave myself as well and just played really smart and putted well," Streelman said.

The low 50 and ties and anyone within 10 strokes of the lead will make the cut.

Among those players with concern about reaching the weekend after poor starts are three reigning major champions -- British Open champion Phil Mickelson (76), US Open champion Justin Rose (76) and 2013 PGA Championship winner Jason Dufner (80).

Also seeking a turnaround Friday are Ernie Els (75), Jason Day (75), 2013 Masters runner-up Angel Cabrera (78) and England's Luke Donald (79).

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