- American holds one-shot lead over Mito Pereira at Southern Hills
- Rory McIlroy hits 71 but still in picture five shots off leader
In the city that houses a new museum dedicated to Bob Dylan, the times they are a changin’. How else to explain a major leaderboard as has Will Zalatoris and Mito Pereira – without a main tour victory between them – at the summit? Zalatoris leads Pereira by one at the halfway point of this US PGA Championship.
A 64 from Pereira, the 27-year-old Chilean, was already in the books before Zalatoris putted out for a 65. Nine under par plays eight under par. Increasingly benign conditions were notable on Friday afternoon but these were still terrific performances. “I actually got away with murder a few times,” said Zalatoris.
Rory McIlroy, in a similar position on the draw, could fare no better than 71. McIlroy remains firmly in the picture at Southern Hills – he is five behind Zalatoris – but looked and sounded frustrated at failure to capitalise on a course that had little by way of defence.
“There’s a long way to go, a lot of golf left,” said McIlroy. “We’re going to see a completely different golf course the next two days because of the wind direction. It’s going to play completely differently.”
McIlroy was nudged into a share of fifth by Bubba Watson. The two-time Masters champion rampaged towards a 63, which included nine birdies. Watson thereby leapt from plus two to minus five.
Tiger Woods delivered a sense of familiarity. Woods sat outside the cut line after a messy double bogey at the par three 11th. His response was formidable; Woods birdied two of his last six holes to post a 69 and maintain tournament involvement. “You can’t win the tournament if you miss the cut,” said Woods.
Justin Thomas began this US PGA Championship week battling sinus and allergy issues. He explained why having his father as a coach was sometimes problematic on the basis of an occasional lack of blunt analysis. Thomas had never played a competitive round at Southern Hills before Thursday.
Sometimes sport reminds us all to ignore all available evidence. Thomas has played in by far the most severe of the Tulsa weather. Yet as others wilted, the 2017 champion delivered back-to-back rounds of 67. He should be delighted with six under.
“Although I played solidly yesterday, I played really, really well today,” said Thomas. “The conditions were obviously very difficult. I stayed very patient, tried to get in my own little world and get in a zone then just tried to execute each shot the best I could. I felt I did a great job of that and am glad to have a good round to show for it.
“I like this golf course. I feel like I’m playing well. We’re halfway through so it’s still a long way from home, 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 was quite right to reference mental strength. He showed plenty of it; the delivery of just one bogey in round two, with the wind gusting, was hugely impressive.
The next case for discarding the pre-tournament emotion of golfers was delivered by Matt Fitzpatrick. The Englishman believes he is in the form of his life but was hardly upbeat having taken a first glance at this major venue.
“My dad called me and he was asking ‘How is the course looking?’ and no offence to the PGA of America here, but I was like, ‘It’s a typical PGA, it’s long and tough and just not really my cup of tea’,” Fitzpatrick explained.
“I’ll be honest, this year I’ve got a lot longer, and it showed a lot the first two days, the guys that I played with, the clubs that I’ve been hitting into holes. Hopefully it’s a sign of things are changing a little bit for me and open a few more doors on other golf courses.” Fitzpatrick’s 68-69 means a three-under aggregate.
Brooks Koepka, who looked certain to survive for just 36 holes after a Thursday 75, improved by eight shots upon his return to the course. Jon Rahm was delighted with a 69 as moved him to plus two. It would be folly to discount the Spaniard.
Those to miss the cut included the world No 1 and Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who whacked his bag with a club during a Friday morning fit of pique. Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Adam Scott, Martin Kaymer and Dustin Johnson were afforded an identical fate. Reputation counts for nothing here.
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