Oklahoma’s fierce winds subsided on Friday afternoon giving players a chance to make their mark on the PGA 104 Championship. Will Zalatoris was the man who rose to the challenge as the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year winner threw darts after darts at Southern Hills and propelled his name to the top of the leaderboard In second place this year.
Playing cards 66-65, Zalatoris finds himself in the under 9 and plays himself again in the feud in the major. Still searching for his first victory of his career, the 25-year-old will face his duties as several big names, major champions and shallow-water veterans await his moment to slip. The good news? The top seven winners at Southern Hills either took the lead or co-drive after 36 holes, just like this year’s Zalatoris.
Among those looking to beat him is Justin Thomas, who put together a morning performance in the second round. One of two names within the top 10 to play in the most challenging breakout period, the 2017 PGA Championship winner is looking to lift the trophy for the first time in more than a year. Thomas’s game has been going for the better for three months now, and the same can be said for first round leader Rory McIlroy. Unable to follow his opening under-65, the 33-year-old now finds himself five strokes ahead of Zalatores’ lead but not without a chance to win his fifth career title.
There is still a lot to go through and that’s exactly what we plan to do. Below is a summary of the leaderboard as it stands after the second round.
1. Will Zlatoris (-9): Peas and carrots. Peanut butter and jelly. Zalatoris and Grand Champion conditions will. Producer Wake Forest was brilliant on the biggest stage in golf of his young career, racking up four top-10 finishes in just seven starts. He’s well on his way to adding to that total and doing so in a serious way. Zalatoris always hits the ball, well, and this week, the dropout racket decided to cooperate as well as lead the field in the hits he’s got. He’s 18 for 18 in shooting mode within 10 feet so far in this tournament. Big business weekends are completely different animals, so if nerves have crept in, it’s likely to show up on the greens.
2 – Mito Pereira (-8): There are a number of similarities between Zalatoris and Pereira. Their stats are eerily similar, and neither has ever won the PGA Tour despite a number of close calls to name a couple. The Chilean was a Battlefield promo from the Korn Ferry Tour last summer and appears to be resting on its first PGA Tour appearance. In his second Grand Slam appearance, Pereira hit 6-under 64 and will run into his last starting point on Saturday alongside Xalatores.
3. Justin Thomas (-6): It was an impressive first two days for Thomas, who sent out nine birds against just three bogeys. His second inning 67 will see all the hype, rightly so, but I can’t help but get back to the 18th hole on Thursday. Stealing a two-stroke on the field with a hard-flying level 4 birdie, Thomas rode that late momentum into one of Friday morning’s rounds. He’s been vocal in the last half-decade about his desire to add another major tournament to his resume, and now he’s working himself close to a second Wanamaker Cup.
4. Bubba Watson (-5): The championship round belongs to the two-time Masters champion as Watson went out shooting on Friday afternoon with his top nine birders on a main round. Signing a 7-under 63, Watson not only tied the record set by Tiger Woods and Raymond Floyd, but more importantly he’s back in contention after a disappointing first round of 2. In a course that demands creativity and shot-making, should we really be surprised when he found Watson named on the front page of the leaderboard?
T5. Rory McIlroy, Abraham Anser and Davis Riley (-4): McIlroy was on the better end of the weather lottery, so his second run, which finished in 1, was much more disappointing. However, the four-time main champ is still in the thick of it despite his troubles on Friday. He continued to drive the ball like a stallion, but the iron play and racket abandoned him because he was unable to gain any momentum.
T8. Matt Fitzpatrick and Stewart Sink (-3): Sink badly missed the ghost on the 72nd hole of the 2001 US Open to knock out a playoff match with Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks. Now, 21 years later, the 49-year-old is back fishing in the Southern Hills and is the most likely candidate to follow in the unexpected footsteps of Phil Mickelson a year ago.
T10. Cameron Smith, Sam Burns and five others (-2): This is probably the farthest I go to find a potential winner because this is a group that has a lot of firepower. Burns made a major boost to the leaderboard on Friday with a round of 3 underway alongside Cameron Young, who turned in similar rounds 71-67.
T30. Jordan Spieth and 10 others (+1): The dream of a grand slam is still technically alive no matter how frail the heartbeat. Spieth would look back on his opening round with disdain because he simply couldn’t do anything on the greens. He fought valiantly on Friday, but unless something catastrophic happens to the leaders, he’ll have to wait until next year’s PGA Championship for another chance to join the golf elite.
T53. Tiger Woods and 10 others (+3): There’s just something about a big, 46-year-old 15-time champion grinding to the cut late Friday that’s satisfying to watch. Away from eleventh, Woods looked solid on his way to a 1-under 69, and even outplayed his playing rival McIlroy. His body should be hurting, but I like to think he’ll do a better job at the weekend than the 2022 Masters.
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