Masters co-leader Sergio Garcia, finally at peace with frustrating Augusta National, could capture a first major title on Sunday -- on what would have been his idol Seve Ballesteros' 60th birthday.
The 37-year-old Spaniard shot a three-under par 69 Friday to grab a share of the 36-hole lead at the year's first major championship, his 19th Masters and 74th career major appearance without a victory.
"It would mean a lot," Garcia said of the possibility of ending his major drought on the birthday of Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in 2011 at age 54.
"It's difficult to describe it until it happens. But at the same time, it's Friday afternoon. It's not Sunday.
"Hopefully, we'll be standing here and we'll be talking about that feeling again. That would be the best thing that could happen to me and I'm going to do my best to make sure I'm here to tell you how it feels."
Garcia has known heartache at Augusta, where his best finish was fourth in 2004. He was third in 2012 after 36 holes, only to shoot 75 Saturday and go on a tirade.
"I was frustrated," he said. "I probably didn't accept things as well as I should have. And I've shown myself many times after that, that I can contend and I can truly feel like I can win, not only one, but more than one.
"I'm excited about the challenges that this weekend is going to bring, and hopefully I'll step up to them and I'll be able to be up there on Sunday with a solid chance at winning."
- 'best bunker shot' -
After a bogey-free 71 Thursday, Garcia began round two with three birdies, a Masters first for him, before a bogey at the par-3 fourth, a birdie to close the front nine and birdies at 15 and 17 to offset two early back-nine bogeys.
"Even though I made three bogeys, I think I struck the ball really well," Garcia said. "It feels like the kind of course you need to get to know. It's the kind of course you have to make peace with."
It's one where breaks are suddenly going Garcia's way. His 10-foot birdie putt at the first was among only three surrendered all day on the course's toughest hole
"After making that birdie it calmed me down," he said. "It gave me a lot of confidence. I felt like I really stole one there. I got a couple of nice breaks. I want to keep those things happening my way."
Garcia struck an amazing plugged-lie bunker shot lip out to set up a tap-in par at 12.
"That was probably, I would say, hands down, the best bunker shot I've ever hit," Garcia said.
It's the sort of save Ballesteros made his trademark, but Garcia won't ponder heavenly help or a Seve Sunday connection yet.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself," Garcia said. "I probably don't even want to think about it. I might get a little sensitive. There are a lot of holes yet to be played. It would be a nice problem to have.
"I've given myself a lot of chances. If we can put the cherry on top, that would be even better."
Garcia, heckled about his lack of a major win by US fans at last September's Ryder Cup, has found support at Augusta National.
"I feel unbelievable support out there," Garcia said.
Garcia said a thin line separates a ball staying inches from the cup and one that rolls 40 feet away, a fact he accepts now.
"Sometimes funny things are going to happen to good shots," he said. "I'm a little bit calmer now. I'm working on trying to accept things that can happen here. It's much easier to say than to do it... I still have to get so much better at it."
© 2017 AFP