A Masters with a very masterful leader board

© Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Well, it is named the Masters, isn’t it? You expect to have a lot of champions up on the leader board, the game’s elite, the names everybody knows — even if they don’t know golf.

This isn’t a tournament for the anonymous, for the guys the headline writers list as “Unknown.” Or those of faint of heart. This is the one for those who have proven themselves, those willing to challenge a course where a missed shot can leave you up Rae’s Creek.

Look at the leader board halfway through the 2019 Masters. It includes seemingly every major champion of the last few years, Francesco Molinari (2018 British Open), Brooks Koepka (2017 and ’18 U.S. Open), Adam Scott (2013 Masters) and Louis Oosthuizen (2010 British Open) all tied for first place at 7-under-par 137.

One shot back at 138 after Friday’s second round is Dustin Johnson, winner of the 2016 U.S. Open, and El Tigre, Tiger Woods, despite having his foot stepped on by an overzealous marshal on the 14th green. No need to list Woods’ majors. Or those of Phil Mickelson, who is at 140.

This is what promoters dream of, what TV networks worship. It’s like having the Warriors in the NBA playoffs, the Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers in the World Series. It’s marquee stuff.

About the only missing suspect is Rory McIlroy, who needs a Masters victory to complete the career Grand Slam, which Tiger accomplished long ago. But at least McIlroy made the cut with his 1-over-par 145.

This was a crazy day at Augusta National, where the temperature climbed into the humid high 70s, rain fell at times and, after a suspension, play went on until the sun went down.

“There’s nothing better than having a chance going into the weekend at the Masters,” said Mickelson, a three-time winner of the event.

Nothing better for the competitors, spectators or the television audience.

Watch those second shots fly across the pond and onto the green at 15 and Adam Scott, as he did Friday, drop a putt for an eagle.

Watch those balls go wrong, as Bryson DeChambeau’s did on the 10th, when inexplicably he took a 10, 6-over-par, and plunged from a tie for first into the depths of depression.

“That’s the game,” said a philosophical DeChambeau. “That’s golf, and that’s why I love it but I also hate it at the same time.”

Molinari has only love. At 36, he is among the very best. Americans have won the Masters, Brits have won the Masters. South Africans have won the Masters. An Australian, Scott, finally won the Masters.

Maybe this year an Italian wins.

“I feel a massive difference when I’m on the green or around the greens compared to my previous times here,” said Molinari.

And it’s on the greens where Scott verified again, after dropping that eagle putt on the par-5 15th to get 8-under and become the sole leader, even the shortest putt is no sure thing — Scott missing a two-footer for a par at 16.

Others at the top also had their brief moments of agony. The second hole is a 575-yard downhill par 5, tailor made for a big boomer like Koepka. But there are Georgia pines to the left and right of the fairway, and, well...

“I don’t know what happened there,” said Koepka. What happened was Koepka pulled his tee shot into the trees and took a double-bogey 7. Still, he managed a one-under 71 after starting the round as co-leader with DeChambeau at 66.

“Thursday, everything seemed to click,” said Koepka. “But you’re going to be tested in a major one way or another.”

And this major has the proper players to be put to the test.