The final hole for Justin Thomas at the PGA Championship on Friday was a microcosm of his second-round effort.
Thomas, who has become like a little brother to Tiger Woods of late, has seen some of Woods’ ball-striking magic rub off on him. He sent a drive 303 yards down the middle of the fairway. It got only 61 feet in the air and gently curved left-to-right like one side of a hand-drawn heart. Light. Perfect. He followed that up with a wedge to nine feet and rolled in the birdie putt.
“The way I played that last hole, I couldn’t have really drawn it up any or much better,” Thomas said. “That was a nice way to end it.”
Thomas’s second-round 67 was tied for the low round of the morning wave, but with the blustery Oklahoma winds dying to a whisper in the afternoon, the rest of the field took advantage. Thomas, at 6 under after two rounds, is three shots back of Will Zalatoris at Tulsa’s Southern Hills Country Club.
Zalatoris, who has yet to win on the PGA Tour, shot a 5-under 65 Friday that could change that. In the seven previous majors at Southern Hills, the winner was either the leader or co-leader after 36 holes.
“I think history to me, it is what it is,” Zalatoris said. “But I’m going to go out and do my job and hopefully it’s enough at the end.”
Zalatoris will be paired with Chile’s Mito Pereira in Saturday’s final group. Pereira shot a 64 Friday to get to 8 under.
Thomas, meanwhile, will be in the penultimate pairing. By his own admission, he hasn’t stepped up when he has needed to at the major championships over the last calendar year. But he’s in prime position to do that this weekend.
His back-to-back rounds of 67 came in the much more difficult weather waves. The PGA of America did not cut the greens overnight due to the forecasted high winds Friday morning and to prevent unplayable conditions on Southern Hills’ sloped greens.
“I like this golf course. I feel like I’m playing well. We’re halfway through so it’s still a long way home,” Thomas said. “But I’m very, very pleased with where everything is at and the frame of mind and state of mind that I’m in.”
Thomas won the 2017 PGA Championship but his top-10 result at the Masters in April was his first at a major since November 2020. And that came after he shot a 76 in the opening round. The former world No. 1 said he had a “very hard time getting focused” at Augusta National.
Getting over the hump to win a second major, Thomas said this week, has become a lot harder than he thought it would be.
“Just on me, it’s like, obviously when you win one to get where you want to go you have to win the next one,” he said. “And when you get on a little bit of a drought, it can be frustrating.”
Two-thirds of the Canadian contingent had a frustrating couple of days at Southern Hills. Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes finished at 9 over and missed the cut. Adam Hadwin, who shot a 1-over 71 on Friday, made the cut on the number (4 over) is 13 shots off the lead.
Hadwin’s best result at a major is a tie for 24th at the 2018 Masters. He said he felt as if he was playing solid golf and was keen to get two more rounds in at Southern Hills.
Tiger Woods also survived the cut. After making a double bogey on the par-3 11th, Woods rallied with birdies the 13th and 16th holes for a 69. He is at 3 over after 36 holes.
Despite his obvious pain, Woods said playing in the game’s biggest championships is what keeps him motivated.
“Coming back here to a place that I’ve had success on, to play against the best players in the world, that’s what we all want to do,” he said. “Fortunately enough, I’m able to somehow do it.”
Notables to miss the cut include two-time major winner Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, last year’s FedExCup champion, and perhaps the biggest surprise of all, world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler. This is Scheffler’s first missed cut at a major since the 2019 U.S. Open, his first as a professional.
Those who found the weekend should experience a different golf course for the third round, as the temperature is set to drop significantly and the wind is going to blow in the opposite direction.
“It’s just going to play much differently tomorrow,” said first-round leader Rory McIlroy, who is five shots back after a 71 Friday, “and that makes it very interesting.
Adam Stanley is an Ottawa-based contributor to the Star’s Sports section and the host of golf podcast Next Round’s On Me. Follow him on Twitter: @adam_stanley