Justin Thomas fired a second successive 7-under 65 for the halfway lead at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD on Friday but he wasn’t a happy man despite being in prime position for a 14th PGA TOUR title.
“I played well. I’m not very pleased with the finish. The last six holes I would have liked to at least have got something,” said the 27-year-old who leads on 14-under 130.
The 2017 FedExCup champion made seven birdies in his opening 12 holes after starting from the 10th but parred home the last six on another day of low scoring in the US$8 million showpiece which moved from Japan to the U.S. this year due to COVID-19.
Despite being bogey-free, Thomas was disappointed he didn’t take advantage of ideal scoring conditions, especially on the par 5s on his inward nine. He ended the day one ahead of Lanto Griffin and South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli, who shot matching 65s. Last season’s Rookie of the Year, Scottie Scheffler and World No. 14 Patrick Cantlay also carded 65s to lie two back.
Defending champion Tiger Woods, who won the inaugural ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP for a record equalling 82nd PGA TOUR victory last year, matched his career best improvement round by being 10 shots better in his second round of 66 but enters the weekend 12 behind Thomas. After an opening 64, first round leader Sebastian Munoz settled a 70 to drop four back while Richy Werenski set a new course record of 61 which featured a career-first 12 birdies for tied sixth place on 133.
With Sherwood yielding low scores – 56 players shot in the 60s on Friday – Thomas knows he needs to keep his foot on the pedal to savour a first win of the 2020-21 PGA TOUR Season. It will be the 11th occasion he has led or co-led after 36-holes on TOUR where he has gone on to win on six occasions, the last being at THE CJ CUP in Korea last October.
“It’s (course) not very difficult. It’s short and the greens are soft right now … that’s good scoring conditions for us,” said Thomas. “Definitely having a 5 iron and a 5 wood out of the fairway into two par 5s and making two pars is not good. I had a great par save there on 8 and I hit a lot of good shots, I just wasn’t near as tight and tidy those last four holes.”
Frittelli has made 16 birdies, the most by any player through two rounds, as he chases a second PGA TOUR victory. It has been a case of the proverbial ‘drive for show and putt for dough’ and a new-found mental approach that has pushed the 30-year-old into contention.
“I’ve been hitting it a lot longer now. But the putter was probably the major thing, made a few crucial putts,” said the South African, who made 101 feet of putts on Friday as opposed to 51 feet in the first round.
“I made a little mental switch, worked on my mind over the weekend and into this week. It’s a little thing I read in a book, it’s called Legacy. It’s got to do with mindset. The All Blacks (New Zealand rugby team), obviously one of the best teams in the world, a little thing in there that I found.”
For the second straight week, Griffin fought his way into contention. “Winning is our goal, but it’s not realistic. Even if you have a week like I did last week (THE CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK) and finish seventh, you’ve got to be happy about it and take some positives and try and look back on what you did right and wrong and get better. But winning takes playing well and getting a few breaks, and the breaks are a lot of times are out of your control. I feel very lucky to be here. I’m going to try to take as much pressure off myself as I can and then play as well as I can,” he said.
Woods’ biggest improvement came at five of the par 5s at Sherwood, where he was four-under today as opposed to being three-over in his first round. “Played the par 5s better,” said the 44-year-old Woods, who has won five times previously at the venue.
“I felt like I really didn’t swing the club that poorly (Thursday). I was just a fraction off and I got out of position a couple times and it just snowballed into a high number. Today was a lot more sharp and a lot more crisp and clean.”
Satoshi Kodaira, who holds one victory on the PGA TOUR, carded a bogey-free 66 to remain as the highest placed amongst the eight Japanese golfer in the elite field in tied 14th position on 134 while newly-turned professional Takumi Kanaya, a former world amateur No. 1, shot a 67 for a share of 35th place on 137.