Defending champ Willett leads parade exiting Masters early

Danny Willett of England, watches his drive on the fourth hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 7, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Bubba Watson hits from the first fairway during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 7, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Henrik Stenson of Sweden, hits from a bunker on the seventh hole during the second round of the Masters golf tournament Friday, April 7, 2017, in Augusta, Ga. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Defending champion Danny Willett's morning got off to an appropriately chilly start.

The Englishman made a snowman at the first hole, never quite recovered from that quadruple bogey en route to a 78 on Friday and wound up leading a cast of dozens headed for the exits at Augusta National after failing to make the cut. At least Willett will be back on Sunday to put the green jacket on the new champion.

Two days of cool, wind-whipped conditions tested the golfers' patience and left plenty shaking their heads on the way out.

"Three-putt on the first hole doesn't help and then misjudged the wind with clubs at least three times," said two-time champion Bubba Watson, who finished 8 over. "Could have been four. I remember three in my head."

Watson had plenty of company. In fact, the parade of former champions and other luminaries who posted scores of 151 or worse and will be skipping the weekend was almost large enough to fill out a consolation bracket.

"We've had two fabulous years and when you have a bit of a downturn, it feels like the world is coming to end," said Willett, who became the first reigning champ to depart early since Mike Weir in 2004.

Considering his poor form over the past year, Willett wasn't even the biggest surprise. That dubious honor belongs to Watson, who had made the cut in all eight of his previous Masters appearances.

There was no shortage of other former winners who won't be making use of their green jackets come Sunday.

They include Angel Cabrera (2009), Trevor Immelman (2008), Zach Johnson (2007), Vijay Singh (2000), Jose Maria Olazabal (1999, 1994) Mark O'Meara (1998) Bernhard Langer (1993, 1985), Ian Woosnam (1991) and Sandy Lyle (1988).

On the plus side, three 50-something-year-old players will be hanging around, including past champions Fred Couples (1992) and Larry Mize (1987), as well as Steve Stricker. They'll be joined by two young amateurs, Curtis Luck and Stewart Hagestad.

The 57-year-old Couples zoomed up the leaderboard with a second-round 70 that left him at 1 under and within three shots of the lead. He's begun the third round inside the top 10 each of the last five years only to fade badly on the weekend.

"I'm not going to be thinking about winning the tournament until Sunday, or the back nine on Sunday," Couples said. "But I've got a long way to go before that."

Mize, on the other hand, was tiptoeing along the cut line all day. The 58-year-old Augusta native lingered over a short putt for par on 18 and had to keep reminding himself: "Just hit it. Don't make it more important than it was."

Plenty of others would love to have been in the same position. The two most prominent were British Open champ Henrik Stenson and U.S. Ryder Cup star Patrick Reed.

Coupled with the withdrawal of U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson before the tournament, that left PGA champion Jimmy Walker as the only major winner still in the field. There were 53 players remaining after the cut, meaning former PGA champion Jason Day will begin the third round with a non-competing partner selected by Masters officials.

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