AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Before nerves began to fray, long before the wind started to blow, the players who arrived for the 80th Masters sensed that Augusta National would offer a different test than the one that saw Jordan Spieth match a tournament scoring record a year ago.
The greens were lightning fast, even early in the week when they tend to be a bit more forgiving. The weather forecast called for some pre-tournament rain, but not enough to out-muscle the club's Sub-Air system and Mother Nature's brisk breeze.
Whether those in charge at Augusta National conspired to avoid the scoring onslaught of a year ago, or the weather took care of it for them, the storied course has been a brute and figures to be for at least one more round before maybe, just maybe, we are graced with a Sunday full of birdies.
For now, the idea is to hang on for such an opportunity.
"Tomorrow is probably going to be more difficult than today," said tournament leader Spieth, who for the first time in 10 career rounds at Augusta National failed to match or better par.
Only four players broke par Friday, including Rory McIlroy, who climbed the leaderboard to second overall by playing the last six holes in 3 under and also seeing others around him stumble.
However we got to this point, it offers up a made-for-TV final pairing of No. 2-ranked Spieth and No. 3-ranked McIlroy -- the defending Masters champ versus the player looking to complete the career Grand Slam by winning his first green jacket.
It will be the first time in Masters history that two multiple major winners age 26 or younger will play in the final pairing on the weekend.
"We just both seem to be on our games right now and obviously really focused on this week with a lot of fantastic players behind us," Spieth said.
"It was a tough old day out there," said Jason Day, the No. 1-ranked player in the world whose 73 left him 1 over par but only five strokes back and in a tie for 15th. "And I think they're saying that it's going to get tougher and tougher, and if that is true ... we'll see how it goes at the end of that. The greens are starting to get marked. It's starting to get very, very quick on the back side and, yeah, it's tough."
And the forecast portends more misery, as temperatures in the low 40s on Saturday morning are expected to climb only into the mid-60s. That is typically pleasant golf weather, but winds are supposed to reach 12-18 mph, with gusts up to 25 mph. That's much how it was for most of the day Friday, when the scoring average was 75.022.
"It was a mental test," said Spieth, who opened the tournament with a 66, birdied two of the first three holes to increase his lead to five strokes, then made a double-bogey, four bogeys and two birdies over his closing 14 holes to shoot 74.
Brandt Snedeker, Soren Kjeldsen and Hideki Matsuyama are three back in a tie for fifth, with seven players tied for eighth, including amateur Bryson DeChambeau, whose triple-bogey at the 18th while playing with Spieth knocked him four strokes behind. The day began with 19 players under par and ended with only seven.
"This course is mentally tough enough without the conditions," said Rickie Fowler, a pre-tournament favorite who missed the cut. "And then you add in the wind and some unfortunate breaks you may get, it's tough, because it can wear on you.
"When the wind has that much of an effect on the greens and how much it can move your ball ... we're used to playing in the wind, hitting balls through the air and how it affects it, but with the greens with this much slope and whether it's blowing with or against it, there's quite an effect. It's crazy when the ball's just shaking and you got to wait to hit it. So it's definitely difficult out there, and it can wear on you mentally."
A year ago, Spieth was 10 shots better through 36 holes after scores of 64 and 66. He went on to shoot 70-70 over the weekend and, at one point, had gotten to 19 under par, the first player in Masters history to do so. A bogey at the last hole -- he won by four -- matched Tiger Woods' 1997 tournament record of 270, 18 under par.
That is far out of reach this time, especially with another windy day expected for the third round. But as the sun sets, the wind is expected to die down, allowing for the possibility of overnight frost as the temperature dips into the 30s.
So, the possibility exists that some moisture in the greens might soften them up a bit to allow for a Sunday shootout.
But first, we've got a dream final-group pairing on Saturday.