Justin Thomas finding form just in time for PGA defense, tied for lead with Ian Poulter, Tommy Fleetwood at Firestone
Before even teeing it up at the Masters, Justin Thomas already put together a season with which a good majority of tour pros would be thrilled. But since he picked up two quick victories at the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges and the Honda Classic, plus finishing in solo second at the WGC-Mexico Championship and solo fourth at the WGC-Match Play, Thomas has cooled off, finishing inside the top 10 just once in his last eight starts.
With the rate at which he's won over the last two years, it's a noticeable slump for Thomas, who needs to find some form if he wants to successfully defend his PGA Championship next week at Bellerive. So far at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, he's on the right path, carding a 65 and Friday's six-under 64, his lowest round since a final-round 64 at Mexico in March, to grab a share of the lead at 11-under 129 with Tommy Fleetwood and Ian Poulter.
"I know that I've been close for awhile," said Thomas, who posted a first-round 69 at Carnoustie two weeks ago, only to miss the cut following a second-round 77. "I just haven't really had the results or the scores to show it. I'm just trying to stay patient and continue to work on the things that we're working on, and I'm glad that it showed these last two days."
Over the first two rounds the driver and putter have worked particularly well for Thomas. He ranks first in the field in strokes-gained/putting, sixth in putts per green in regulation and he's averaging 322.4 yards off the tee.
"I played well overall. I putted a lot better today or I made more putts," said Thomas. "I gave myself quite a few opportunities, but not as many as I did yesterday, but I was just able to capitalize on more of them today."
Poulter backed up his first-round 62 by firing a 67, and Fleetwood posted a seven-under 63, one stroke shy of matching his fellow countryman's low round of the week from Thursday. For Poulter, while it wasn't as electric as his opening round, he knows it's good enough to have a chance on the weekend.
"It's always tough to follow a near-perfect round of golf," said Poulter. "I didn't drive it quite as well, I didn't putt quite as good as I wanted to. But, it's in position. Whenever you play a couple like that around this golf course and you're sitting there at the top of the leader board, you're pretty happy."
Someone who is very familiar with being in good position is Fleetwood, having given himself numerous chances to win on the weekend over the last two years on the PGA Tour but failing to break through. Perhaps this is the week his stellar record on the European Tour, where he's claimed three wins the last two seasons alone, translates in America.
"For me it's the next step in my career," Fleetwood said. "A PGA Tour event, WGC, major, whatever it is, that's kind of where we want to be going and where we want to head. Just got to keep doing the right things really. It's great that we keep getting in position, we're obviously doing a lot of things right. Winning is hard, four days is along time, 72 holes you're playing with the best players in the world. It's tough. Hopefully, eventually it will happen, and it could be this week, but it's great to put myself back in position again."
Just two back at nine-under 131 are Kyle Stanley and Jason Day, who made a late run on Friday with birdies on three of his final four holes to cap off a back-nine 31. Day is in search of his third WGC victory, the first two both coming in the WGC-Match Play.
Rory McIlroy's second-round 67 puts him at eight-under 132, while Tiger Woods and Jon Rahm both lurk at six-under 134.