Rory McIlroy keeps Jordan Spieth in sight with brilliant touches at Augusta

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Golf has the duel of its dreams; Jordan Spieth versus Rory McIlroy in the final group on Saturday of the Masters. A fitting way to start the weekend at the 80th running of the tournament.

A bloody-minded refusal to yield took McIlroy to a 71 for a three-under par total. It was the low score of the day and must have felt like a 66, slicing as it did the deficit to Spieth from four strokes to one.

The direction of travel is unmistakable, fuelled by the belief that after the trauma of four years ago when he lost a four-shot lead on the final day, McIlroy is due around this course. “I sort of feel that Augusta owes me something and I have come with that attitude. I have come here to get something that I should have had a long time ago,” he said.

“You need to be so focused and in control of your emotions here. It’s about not getting fazed and mentally I have been good the last couple of days. I need to keep that going for the next two days.”

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Jordan Spieth in action on day two (Getty)

After racing into a five-stroke lead on eight under par with two birdies in his opening three holes Spieth at last felt the force of Augusta’s wrath. Out in the same afternoon slot that snared McIlroy on Thursday, Spieth began to go backwards as the wind reared up, the sun went down and the temperatures crashed.

“I’m still in the lead. After two rounds you can’t ask for better than that. But I was at eight under and you finish at four, that’s kind of tough, but it’s only half way,” Spieth said. “I’m a bit disappointed right now but I’ll settle down. It’s almost a different golf tournament now, and I know this tee time well.”

A double bogey at the fifth was the first blow landed by the course all week. Successive bogeys at 16 and 17 ate deeper into Spieth’s lead and his psyche. After a round of 74, his first the wrong side of par at Augusta, Spieth finds himself in a battle for supremacy between the golfer many regard as the deepest talent of this generation.

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Jason Day in action (Getty)

McIlroy was also out of the gate quickly, with two birdies in his opening three holes. And then came the fourth, one of the most challenging par-3s in golf, gun barrel straight but protected by bunkers front and left. McIlroy found the former, chipped out and three-putted to give back in one lethal dose the bounty of his start.

Another shot went at the fifth and a three-putt from the fringe at the 11th took McIlroy back to level par. The entry to Amen corner proved the most difficult hole on the course in the opening round, yielding only three birdies, 35 bogeys and seven doubles, so to let a shot go was hardly criminal.

And, inverting the experience of the closing holes on Thursday, McIlroy was back in the birdie business with three in four holes from the 13th, including a 40-footer at the 16th, to set a mark that looked well capable of enduring with the wind really starting to blow.

“I feel great, so much better about myself than I did on day one, happy how I battled, how I ground out a round,” he said. “You just have to look at the scores here and you can see how tough it is today.

“I got off to a fast start and I knew that was important.  Holes five, six and seven were very tough, and four as well.  I lost a couple of strokes there. But then going into the back nine, I knew I just needed to stay patient and make pars and try to birdie the par 5s. I was able to do that and the putt on 16 was obviously a bonus.”

And he was back in the birdie business with three in four holes from the 13th to set a mark that looked well capable of enduring with the wind really starting to blow.

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