As the thunder started crackling off in the distance, Puyallup’s Ryan Moore hurriedly strolled up the 15th fairway.
His second round at the 79th Masters Tournament was just hitting its stride. He was making birdies at Augusta National Golf Club. He did not want any delays.
The birdies kept coming.
The expected thunderstorm never did.
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Buoyed by four birdies over his final six holes, Moore got himself back in the year’s first major by not only tying for the day’s best round — a 6-under-par 66 — but also registering his best single-round score at any major for his career.
His previous best was a 67, shot in the third round of the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah Country Club in Illinois.
That 67 was played in near anonymity. This round, grouped with top-ranked Rory McIlroy and three-time Masters champion Phil Mickelson, was the mainstay of afternoon television coverage. And his 66 beat Mickelson (68) and McIlroy (71).
Moore sits now at 4-under 140, tied for eighth — 10 strokes behind leader Jordan Spieth.
“My goal to start the day was 4-under for my round,” Moore said. “It was blustery conditions, (but) I saw some scores being shot, so I was like, ‘All right, let’s keep our head down and hit good shots, and try and shoot a good round of 4-under today — and I got a couple more (shots) out of it.’”
After Moore shot 74 on Thursday, he and swing instructor Troy Denton went right back to the practice range to clean up a few things.
“Troy and I worked on some great stuff after the round, and I got feeling a lot better,” Moore said. “I drove it a lot better — drove it farther than I have in recent history. I got some distance back, and it is amazing what 15-20 yards can do on each hole. That makes them different golf holes.”
Moore birdied the fifth, seventh and ninth holes to make the turn in 33. He saved par at No. 10 from the fringe, sinking a 12-foot putt.
His only real hiccup on the back nine came with a three-putt from 45 feet for bogey at the 11th hole.
But at the end of “Amen Corner” — No. 13 — Moore started turning it on.
He hit the green in two at that par 5, leaving himself a 12-footer for eagle, which he missed but still got his birdie.
In the left rough at the 15th hole, the final par 5, Moore laid up and hit a pitching wedge approach from 115 yards left of the hole. He made the 14-footer to move to 4-under for the day.
He then came to No. 16, a par 3 he recorded a hole-in-one at in the 2010 Masters. And he came within inches of getting another one as his 7-iron tee shot rolled by the right edge for a tap-in birdie.
Moore went to 6-under by nudging a downhill 14-footer into the hole for birdie at No. 17. In fact, all three golfers made birdie at that hole, including McIlroy’s chip-in from the back fringe, and Mickelson’s from the trees off the tee.
“We were able to get at some pins and make some birdies,” Mickelson said. “Ryan had a good back five. Rory had a good back five. It was a good day.”
Moore saved his most imaginative shot for a much-needed par save at the finishing hole.
After he pulled his approach shot into the gallery left, he and caddie J.J. Jakovac surveyed how high up in the fringe on the other side of the green Moore should run his chip — all to get it to come back to a hole location sitting in a bowl.
Jakovac advised him to go high up into the fringe, so when the golf ball retracted, it would have some steam heading back toward the cup.
Moore envisioned it differently.
“If you get it too high up there, it comes down more sideways,” Moore said. “I wanted to get it a little lower (into the fringe) … so it rolled backward. I pulled it off perfectly.”
He did, as the golf ball stopped 3 feet from the hole.
“You just never know — I certainly didn’t have these expectations,” Moore said. “It was nice to shoot my lowest round in a major … and get myself back in the top 10 of the tournament, and just see what I can do for the weekend.”