AUGUSTA – Russell Henley said after Thursday’s first round that he was going to enjoy his 25th birthday Saturday no matter what happened Friday at Augusta National Golf Club.
But Henley gave himself a pretty good birthday present in the second round of the Masters.
Making his second appearance in the tournament, Henley, a former Stratford and Georgia standout, shot a 2-under-par 70 to sit at 1 under for the tournament to make the cut and secure a spot on the weekend.
He missed the cut last year in his Masters debut.
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“I was talking to (caddie Adam) Hayes about it; we’re trying to get into contention,” Henley said. “I just made the cut, but making the cut is great and shows that I’m doing some good stuff.”
Henley did plenty of good things Friday. He finished the day with five birdies and three bogeys.
After a bad-luck bogey on No. 15 when his ball trickled off the front of the green into the water, Henley finished strong.
He hit a terrific tee shot on No. 16 and knocked in the putt for birdie. On No. 17, his tee shot was left, and he punched his second shot to the right of the green, about 55 yards from the hole. He nailed that chip for a second straight birdie and almost had another one to finish his round but missed a putt on the finishing hole.
“I told Hayes the course gave one back to me there,” Henley said of No. 17. “On 15, I hit a perfect drive and a perfect 6 iron right on (playing partner Harris English’s) line; he hit it on. Obviously he hit a better shot than me, but it landed like probably a foot or 2 short of the ridge and came back in the water. I feel like I played that hole perfectly and made bogey.
“On 17, I didn’t hit the best drive and came out with birdie. That’s what kind of happens out here sometimes. It was definitely a great feeling. You don’t make many of those shots.”
Henley started his day with a bogey on the first hole but responded with a birdie on the second. After four straight pars, he bogeyed No. 7 for the second straight day. But he bounced back on No. 10 by making a long birdie putt.
He added a nice tee shot on No. 12 for another birdie to get back to even par for the tournament but then bogeyed No. 15 to fall back to 1 over.
“I made a birdie putt on 10 (Friday) that was a pretty good roar,” Henley said when asked about the reaction to the chip in on No. 17. “But, yeah, (the chip in) was a lot of fun. I was talking to Hayes, and I said, ‘Do we want to be short of this or past it?’ And he said, ‘To be honest with you, buddy, we want to be right next to it.’
“And I was like, ‘Oh, thanks for being honest with me.’ But, yeah, it was cool.”
Henley stayed cool throughout his round, which was a key. Last year, he shot a 72 in the first round but struggled to an 81 in the second round. There were no such troubles Friday.
“It kind of was how I approached (Thursday),” Henley said. “I didn’t put much pressure on myself (Thursday) in making mistakes, having a bad hole. I didn’t get too upset. That’s the key. If you can stay even keel and roll with the punches a little bit out here and keep hitting good shots and stay confident, then you can make a couple of birdies.”
Even with his strong round and his move up the leaderboard, Henley hasn’t changed his focus. He enters the third round tied for tied for 10th and is six shots behind leader Bubba Watson.
“This course doesn’t really let you change your mindset too much,” Henley said. “You’ve got to hit your spots, got to hit the fairway on 1. Hit it right on 2. Same game plan.
“It’s just a matter of hitting it a little bit straighter, a little bit more clean tee to green and giving myself a few more chances.”