AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Until yesterday, the highlight of Jeff Maggert's week at his first Masters came Wednesday, when he joined a threesome of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Raymond Floyd in the middle of a practice round.
"I figured there's at least 12 green jackets [actually, 11] between them," Maggert recalled thinking.
If Maggert continues to play as he has so far in the 57th Masters, that foursome might add another to its collection. And even if he doesn't become the first player to win in his first Masters since Fuzzy Zoeller did it in 1979, someone else in that group still might.
A 5-under-par 67 yesterday gave Maggert a two-round total of 7-under 137, good for a one-shot lead over Dan Forsman. Among those who completed the rain-suspended second round, Chip Beck and Russ Cochran are two shots behind.
Among those who hadn't finished were Floyd and another former champion, Bernhard Langer. Both started the day at 4-under and were at 6-under through 34 holes when play was suspended at 4:55 p.m. The round will be completed before the start of today's third round.
Nicklaus, looking to expand his record collection of six green jackets after sharing the opening-round lead at 5-under, lost one shot and was at 4-under through 31 holes. First-round co-leader Lee Janzen, who played with Nicklaus, remained at 5-under. Tom Lehman was down to 3-under with three holes left, and former Masters champion Larry Mize was at 3-under with four holes to go.
"It's a great feeling," said Maggert, 29, a non-winner in three-plus years on the PGA Tour. "What can you say? I've seen the tournament so many times on television. I wondered what it would be like. Obviously, the tournament's not over. I've got a lot of work ahead of me."
The rain that eventually brought a halt to the second round was the great equalizer yesterday. It softened and slowed the traditionally slick greens, making it inordinately easier for players such as Forsman, Beck and Cochran. None ever has made a dent in this tournament.
Cochran, who followed an opening-round 70 with a 3-under 69, said: "I don't think you're seeing the golf course the way they [the tournament officials] want you to see it. The greens are softer and slower. I don't think we're seeing the toughest course we'll see."
Certainly it will be tougher today, when the sun comes back out and the temperature -- natural and man-made -- starts to rise. If the top of the leader board looks like the Kemper Open, there are more than a few in contention this week who've been in the hunt here, as well as in other majors, before.
Among seven players at 3-under 141 are Lanny Wadkins, Mark Calcavecchia and former PGA champion John Daly. The group of four at 2-under 142 has even better credentials, including defending champion Fred Couples, former champion Fuzzy Zoeller and pre-tournament favorite Greg Norman.
"I'm just battling along, taking what I can get," said Norman, who, after going 3-over for the tournament through seven holes yesterday, played the last 11 in 5-under to finish with a 68. "I'm just glad to get it in the red numbers going into the weekend. I said to myself, 'You've got to shoot 67 whether you like it or not.' "
Norman shot his way back into contention, but former two-time champion Nick Faldo shot himself out of it in a single hole.
In fact, Faldo's quadruple-bogey 7 on the par-3 12th hole -- which included two balls in the water and two in traps -- helped him soar to 3-over 147. Unless someone who hasn't finished his second round gets to 8-under, that's where the cut will be made.
Among those who will miss the cut: former champion Ben Crenshaw, who put together two rounds of 74; two-time and defending Kemper Open champion Bill Glasson, who went from an opening-round 70 to 80 yesterday; Arnold Palmer, who shot 74 in the first round, then carded a 78 yesterday; and defending U.S. Open champion Tom Kite, who gutted out two rounds with a back injury to finish at 151 after a second-round 78.
The last two rounds will come down to a cast of thousands. Or at least a dozen. It's a story line played out between those with little experience or little success, and those with a great deal of history at The Masters.
"There are different levels to this tournament," said Cochran, who missed the cut last year in his first try. "This year was to make the cut. Beyond that, I didn't know what to expect."
Neither did Maggert. After holding the lead going into the final nine holes of last year's PGA Championship, Maggert slipped to sixth when he found water on the par-5 17th at Bellerive. It helped him qualify for The Masters, but missing five straight cuts coming in hasn't built his confidence.
"Definitely the PGA last year was a great learning experience for me," said Maggert, who, despite his recent slump, came in a respectable 18th on the money list. "I played solid golf there. I know what it takes to win. I just want to put it together."
What helped Maggert yesterday were birdies at the tough par-3 12th and the equally challenging par-4 18th, sandwiched around an eagle at No. 15, a short par-5 that has become one of the easiest scoring holes on the course. He also birdied No. 14, a short par-4. Suddenly, Maggert found himself in the lead.
"I didn't realize those good things could happen so fast on the back nine," he said.
Just as playing with Nicklaus in a practice round helped inspire Maggert, it did the same for Forsman. He got his chance on Monday to play with Nicklaus and Palmer. It wasn't just playing with Nicklaus that got Forsman fired up for his third Masters after missing the cut in his first two attempts.
It was what Nicklaus told him.
"Jack said to me, 'Your game is suited for this course,' " recalled Forsman, 34, who rose dramatically to 10th on the money list last year and is 39th this year. "That gave me a lot of confidence and took away some of the anxiety."
Some of that tension is bound to return today. It's said that the Masters doesn't begin until the last nine holes on Sunday. If that's true, players such as Maggert and Forsman, as well as Beck and Cochran, are probably nothing more than an opening act for the headliners still in the hunt.
The guys with the green jackets are coming after them.
% The leaders . . . Jeff Maggert .... 70-67137
Dan Forsman ..... 69-69138
Chip Beck ....... 72-67139
Russ Cochran .... 70-69139
. . . and selected followers
John Daly ......... 70-71141
Fuzzy Zoeller ..... 75-67142
Greg Norman ....... 74-68142
Fred Couples ...... 72-70142
Phil Mickelson .... 72-71143
Seve Ballesteros .. 74-70144
Tom Watson ........ 71-75146
Nick Faldo ........ 71-76147
Fred Funk ......... 77-73150
Tom Kite .......... 73-78151
Arnold Palmer ..... 74-78152
Note: Play was suspended by rain with 10 golfers, including Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, on the course. They will complete the second round beginning at 8:15 a.m. today.
Odds and ends after The Masters' second round:
Best score: 67, by four players: Chip Beck, Fuzzy Zoeller, John Cook, Jeff Maggert
Worst score: 83, by Gay Brewer and Stephen Dundas.
Biggest turnaround: 9 by Cook (76 in first round, 67 in second) Tommy Aaron (80, 71) and Jim Gallagher (81, 72)
Biggest blowout: 10 shots, (70, 80) by Bill Glasson