Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth emerge on an incredibly difficult day two at Augusta to set up a tantalising weekend Masters showdown

Rory McIlroy has moved ominously into close contention at the 2016 Masters. Strong winds, tricky pin placements and slick putting surfaces combined to create one of the toughest major tests in recent times in round two at Augusta. On a day where par was your friend, Rory McIlroy put together a sparkling back nine to shoot a one under 71 and set up a tantalising Masters showdown.

McIlroy reached the turn at two under for the tournament but when he dropped a shot on the menacing 11th hole, was somewhat adrift of Jordan Spieth’s lead. But the Northern Irishman rallied. A gritty 10 footer for birdie at 13, was followed by a towering fairway wood into the 15th that set up another birdie. He went on to hole a tramliner at 16 and suddenly Rory was right back in contention. At the 18th, he pushed his drive right into the trees and his recovery shot barely made the fairway. But this was the Ulsterman fighting harder than ever. An excellent pitch followed by an 8ft putt made straight down the hill, finished the job. On a day when only four players broke par and not a single one of them broke 70, Rory McIlroy showed his class.

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For Spieth it was a completely different story. After birdies at one and three, he reached -8 and at one point had a four shot lead. It looked as if 2015 was repeating itself. But an uncharacteristic double bogey at the 5th, caused by a slew of missed putts, rattled the American. Despite birdies at 8 and 15, he never truly regained his composure. A flurry of back nine bogeys, dispelled any thoughts any of us had that Spieth would win this Masters at a canter. He holed a superb 15 footer at the last to retain a one shot advantage at the half way stage.

With similarly strong winds forecast for Saturday, the severity of the test is set to remain. With Spieth struggling through his back nine and Rory returning to his imperious best, the plot for the 2016 Masters thickens. The two will play together in the final group on Saturday.