Justin Thomas wasn't intimidated by the prospect of a stiff wind whistling through Southern Hills for the second round of the USPGA Championship. If anything, he embraced it; and so it was that the American – confident in his own ball-striking – constructed a wonderfully crafted 67 to match that same opening round score to claim the clubhouse lead on a six-under-par 134.
“I stayed very patient, tried to get in my own little world and get in a zone and just tried to execute each shot the best I could,” explained Thomas of a round of four birdies and a lone bogey that set him up very nicely for a weekend where he could continue a bid for a second career Major title to add to his 2017 Wanamaker Trophy success.
Thomas’s patience was indeed a virtue in windy conditions (to the extent that a decision was made not to cut the greens in order to prevent balls moving) that tasked players – and their caddies – with challenges on yardages and course management and which also prevented anyone running away from the field.
Both Séamus Power (69 for 140 to get inside the top-20 on the leaderboard) and Shane Lowry (72 for 142) comfortably survived the cut with the hope that further ground could be made up over the weekend's final 36-holes, but a number of big names became casualties. One of them was Dustin Johnson and, even more spectacularly, another was world number one and recently crowned US Masters champion Scottie Sheffler who finished with a double-bogey six in signing for a 75 for 146.
Then, there were those who turned their fortunes around, among them Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka who had struggled on day one only to rebound back to ensure gainful employment for the weekend. Rahm recorded a 69 for 142 and Koepka a 67, also for 142.
Thomas was one of those who had few issues with the wind or the slower greens. For a player who had come into the week questioning how he couldn’t trust his swing, which necessitated a lesson from his father and coach Mike.
The quick fix clearly worked, as Thomas – who for a second straight day started and finished his rounds with birdies – moved his way to the top of the leaderboard by the time it came to signing his card.
Without a win in 28 tournaments dating back to his success in last year’s The Players, Thomas – who came into the PGA on the back of a tied-fifth finish in the Byron Nelson, breaking a habit of traditionally not playing the week before a Major – said:“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.
“I just need to try to maintain that the best that I can and keep trying to play good golf. We have two days left, and I just feel like last week got me in a little better routine and just preparation coming into this week.”
Rory McIlroy’s opening round 65 had given him the lead in a Major championship for the first time since he lifted the Wannamaker Trophy at Valhalla in 2014 but he struggled in the early stages of his second round, suffering bogeys on the second and seventh holes without managing to find any birdies on that stretch to slip back to a role of pursuer.