Rory McIlroy put his foot on the gas as Chinese teenager Tianlang Guan became the first player to be handed a slow play penalty in the Masters.
While Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington missed the cut, McIlroy battled back from two bogeys in his first three holes to card a super 70 that left him right in the hunt, four strokes behind leader Jason Day on two under par.
“The big thing that worked for me today was discipline,” said McIlroy who three-putted the first and then bogeyed the third before playing his last 15 holes in four under par.
“You had to be very disciplined, not go for pins at times, know that par was a good score and I knew that if I did that and took my opportunities as they came along, anything under par would be good.
“What pleased me today was just not letting it get away from me. Two‑over through three holes and having par putts on the next four from outside six feet and being able to turn in even par was something I was very proud of today.”
As 14-year old Guan was penalised a shot at the 17th for persistent slow play and signed for a 75 that left saw him eventually make the cut on the four over limit, McIlroy was happy to reflect on a fighting performance that was kick-started by some clutch putting and an eagle just before the turn.
After hole four par putts in a row outside six feet from the fourth, he got his green jacket bid up and running when he eagled the eighth with a 275-yard three-wood to three feet.
It came off the mounds on the left and ran up to three feet at the eighth and made eagle to get back to level par for the tournament.
“That really got me going,” he said. “I was surprised to see where it finished. You’re looking to get a chip shot that close. Then I started to hit some really good quality shots.”
After birdies at the accessible 13th and 14th, McIlroy bogeyed the 16th but holed a crucial 18 footer for par at the 17th before draining a 10 footer for birdie at the last that left him just three shots adrift of 53-year old clubhouse leader Fred Couples (71).
Rathmore’s Alan Dunbar added a 77 to his opening 83 to finish on 16 over in his last event as an amateur.
The 22 year old will make his professional debut in the Challenge de Madrid in a fortnight and is expected to get his first invitation on the European Tour at the Nordea Masters in Stockholm at the end of the month.
“I’ll remember the whole week,” said Dunbar after making five bogeys in his second round. “What a great week. I got off to a bad start yesterday, but I enjoyed it and I hope to get back.”
The reigning British Amateur champion was 10 over after eight holes on Thursday but improved by nine shots on that start yesterday with his only blemish over the same stretch coming with a three-putt bogey at the seventh.
It was his only three-putt of the day in a 32-putt round and while then dropped five shots in eight holes from the ninth, he was not too downcast.
“I’m going to stay the weekend here and play Monday and go see my coach, catch up, do a bit of practice,” he said. “It was in the pro shop the first day I got here. I’ll probably take back a few presents, I suppose.”
Former Masters champion Trevor Immelman, who played with Dunbar for the first two rounds, advised the Ulsterman to practice hard in the professional ranks.
“I really felt for Alan yesterday because he had a really brutal start and you don’t want to wish that on anybody,” the South African said.
“You could see he looked uncomfortable and not very happy but all credit to him as he played the back nine yesterday very solid, and he played a little better today.
“But he just seemed to be really struggling with the snap hook and that’s not ideal.
“And having only just learned he’s now turning pro my only advice to him is to practice hard.”
McDowell missed the cut by a shot in the end carding a 76 to finish a shot outside the mark on five over.
“I carried out the game plan pretty decently but there are a lot of tee shots on this golf course that really don’t set up for me.
“The missing dynamic in my game is off the tee around here. I don’t have the 300 yard draw and for me to compete around here without that I have to putt very well and I didn’t do that.
“I have to learn how to hit it further or have a great putting weekend next year.”
Harrington had too much to do after his opening 78 and a 75 left him five shots outside the cut line on nine over.
“They were tough pins and it was a tough day to try and make some birdies and the damage was done the day before,” Harrington said.
“I had a couple of top 10s coming in and I was prepared okay. I would have been happy with that. I don’t look back at this and say I should have done anything different, which is always a nice sign finishing up at a major. It just didn’t go for me yesterday.”