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A British invasion at the Masters

The English invasion was in full force Friday as Ian Poulter and Lee Westwood shot two of the best three rounds of the day and sat tied atop the leaderboard at 8 under. Poulter, who shot 68 thanks to five birdies, would have had the outright lead had he not bogeyed No. 18 when his 7-foot putt lipped out. Westwood shot 69. He got as low as 10 under (helped by an eagle on the par-5 second hole) before a double bogey on No. 14 brought him back to the pack. His wild day included an eagle, six birdies, seven pars, three bogeys and the double bogey. "Danger lurks everywhere," Westwood said. The two countrymen and Ryder Cup teammates will be paired in the final group for today's third round. "Certainly the way I played (Friday), the number of chances I had on the golf course with the pins as difficult as they are, I was pleased to give myself so many chances," said Poulter, who became the first Englishman to win a World Golf Championship event this year at the Match Play in Tucson, Ariz. "It's one of the best rounds of golf I've played in a while." The last Englishman to win the Masters was Nick Faldo in 1996. The two best players in the world, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, are among a group of five players two shots back. Mickelson needed birdie on the 18th to be paired with Woods for today's third round, just as they were in the final round last year. But his 65-foot putt banged off the back of the cup before spinning away. Also at 6-under were K.J. Choi (runnerup at this year's Transitions Championship in Palm Harbor), Ricky Barnes (in his first major since finishing tied for second in last year's U.S. Open) and Anthony Kim (coming off last week's win at the Houston Open).

Woods owns par-5s

Continuing his mastery of Augusta National's par-5 holes, Tiger Woods remained near the top of the leaderboard with 2-under 70 on Friday, leaving him 6 under at the halfway point — two shots off the lead.

Woods birdied three par 5s on Friday — making him 8 under on the par 5s through the first two rounds — and scrambled out of trouble on several holes to put himself in contention for a fifth green jacket.

Woods needed to scramble for par on the first hole after leaving his tee shot in the trees, then birdied the second. His only bogey came on the par-3 fourth hole after he missed the green to the left, pitched within 8 feet and missed the putt.

"The greens were much quicker (Friday)," he said. "The wind's definitely blowing the ball around the greens. I chipped well the last two days, but I putted better today. … I want to be in contention, and I put myself right there."

Woods sank a long birdie putt on No. 13, then flew his second shot over the green on the par-5 15th before dropping a 12-foot putt for his final birdie.

"I played well all day, I hit a lot of good shots," he said. "It was really difficult out there, really blustery and swirly. It was tough to pick a club."

Els catches break

Ernie Els, a pre-tournament favorite, made double-bogey 7 on the 15th, but it could have been worse.

He hit his approach shot in the water, hit his fourth over the green, and chipped back on, only to see the ball roll across the green and disappear from his sight. Any other year, the ball would have rolled down the bank and into the water. But the grass is cut longer this year, and the ball stayed up.

Els, who assumed the ball was gone, prepared to drop when the crowd yelled, "Nooo," stopping him. Had he dropped, that would have become the ball in play and he likely would have carded 9.

Messages grounded

Any chance of more anti-Tiger banners flying over Augusta National apparently were grounded, according to the Web site TMZ, because the airplane was sent back to Ohio by the FAA for "mechanical issues."

The plane that pulled two banners mocking Woods for his infidelities on Thursday was sent back to Ohio by the FAA, according to the entertainment Web site, because a Thursday night inspection discovered worn-out tags on the seat belts.

A spokesman for the advertising agency that arranged the flying messages said Thursday that there would be more. And there still might be. The owner of the Cessna told TMZ he was trying to arrange for another plane to continue the assignment.

In the tee … uh, tea?

Matt Kuchar's approach on No. 9 went in the drink, literally.

Kuchar's shot bounced on the green and splashed into Jason Thompson's plastic cup as Thompson was sitting along the right side of the hole.

"It was fairly entertaining," Kuchar said. "I've seen it done before, but I've never personally done it."

Kuchar and Thompson exchanged a laugh when Kuchar saw where his ball had landed. As allowed by the rules, Kuchar marked where the ball landed. Thompson then fished it out of the cup — "I didn't want to dig my hands into his (drink)" — and Kuchar dried it off before taking a drop.

He went on to make par.

Chip shots

• Italian teenager Matteo Manassero struggled, shooting 76, but he still became the youngest player (16) to make the Masters cut at 3 over. He was the only amateur to make the cut.

Sandy Lyle, one of the over-50 crowd that had a strong opening round with 69, started his Friday round double bogey, bogey, double bogey, bogey, double bogey en route to 86. He added triple bogey at the par-3 12th.

Angel Cabrera made a 12-footer on 18 to avoid becoming the first defending Masters champion since Mike Weir in 2004 to miss the cut.

A British invasion at the Masters 04/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 9, 2010 11:57pm]

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