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

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 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.

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.


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