AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Adam Scott, who has honed the art of patience at the majors in recent years, kept his Masters title defense on track with a superb back nine in difficult conditions on Friday.
Just as he did last year on the way to his maiden victory in a major, the Australian world number two shrugged off a shaky start to the second round, three birdies after the turn helping him card a level-par 72 at a sun-baked Augusta National.
That left him at three-under 141 in the first of the year's four major championships, four strokes behind pacesetting American Bubba Watson, the 2012 winner.
"It was very difficult out there today," Scott told reporters after recovering from an outward nine of three-over 39 in firm, fast-running conditions. "Anything even par or better at a major is normally a good score, especially today.
"It kept me in the tournament. I was certainly aware of 10, 11 and 12 playing difficult and knew that I had to start hitting some quality shots.
"But I hit two really quality shots on the ninth that felt like the best swings I had made to that point. I wanted to keep that feeling for the back nine. I played a really good back nine. It was really solid."
Scott, who had been one stroke off the pace overnight, sprayed his opening tee shot into a fairway bunker en route to a bogey at the par-four first, and also faltered at the fourth and fifth to slide back to level par for the tournament.
However, he resurrected his title bid with birdies over the last two holes of the iconic Amen Corner stretch.
Scott struck a superb tee shot to five feet at the par-three 12th, which he had double-bogeyed in the opening round, and coolly knocked in the putt.
He then got up and down from behind the green to birdie the par-five 13th before picking up another shot at the par-five 15th.
"There's no doubt I'm a much more patient player the last few years," said the 33-year-old from Adelaide. "As I made a few bogeys, I remembered I did last year on Friday on the front nine as well.
"I shot 39-33, I believe, last year, just like this. It doesn't mean just because you did it last year you're going to do it again, but there's always opportunities to hit good shots on the back nine.
"And I felt it was so important to get through 10, 11, and 12 without dropping another shot, so I could get to 13 and 15 and maybe create some chances for eagle or at least have good looks at birdie."
Mission accomplished for Scott, who did well to salvage par at the last where he missed the fairway to the left off the tee, his ball ending up behind a pine tree from where he struck his second shot into a greenside bunker.
"Fortunate par, maybe, at the last, but you got to take advantage of a bit of luck out of the trees," said Scott, who won last year's Masters in a thrilling playoff with Argentina's Angel Cabrera.
"It (72) wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but given everything, I'm absolutely satisfied with that. It just means tomorrow's round's extremely important for me. It's going to have to be maybe the best round of the week."
Editing by Peter Rutherford