Justin Thomas Seeks His Second P.G.A. Championship Victory

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TULSA, Okla. — Much of the late second-round drama on Friday at the 2022 P.G.A. Championship involved Tiger Woods’s desperate quest to remain in the tournament. In the end, a limping Woods rallied to make the event’s halfway cut by shooting a one-under-par 69 that left him tied for 53rd.

But the overriding theme of the day was a surging youth movement that took control of the leaderboard. Will Zalatoris, 25, who has a top 10 finish in four of the last five majors he has entered, led the charge with a second round 65 that moved him to nine-under for the event. Mito Pereira, 27, shot 64 on Friday and trailed Zalatoris by one stroke.

Overall, there were eight golfers under 30 in the top 10 at the tournament’s halfway mark.

The first of that crew to take the tournament lead was Justin Thomas, 29. With a father and a grandfather who were golf instructors, Thomas has the genes for excellence in the sport. He rose to be a top junior player, appeared in a PGA Tour event while in high school and was named the nation’s top college golfer soon afterward.

By 2017, when Thomas was 24, he won his first major golf title, the P.G.A. Championship. No one would have blamed the Thomas family for investing in a mammoth trophy case to house all the top prizes to come.

Yet while Thomas has won his share of tour events, five years later he has not added to his collection of major championships, something he has called an underachievement. “I have not even close to performed well in my entire career in majors,” he said last month.

Battling gusting, swirling winds at the Southern Hills Country Club, Thomas mixed patience and aggression to shoot his second consecutive three-under-par 67, which moved him into third place at day’s end.

Thomas has contended at the halfway mark of other major tournaments since 2017 and failed to win, but he feels buoyed by a new mind-set this season, which has been aided by a new, experienced hand at his side in Jim Mackay, who spent 25 years as Phil Mickelson’s caddie.

“It’s still golf, so it’s pretty hard sometimes,” Thomas said after his round on Friday. “But I’m very, very pleased with where everything is at and the frame of mind and the state of mind that I’m in.”

He added: “We’re halfway through this tournament, so it’s still a long way from home.”

Mackay had occasionally caddied for Thomas in previous seasons after separating from Mickelson five years ago. Eight months ago, Thomas asked Mackay, whose nickname is Bones, to take the job full time.

“Bones is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen,” Thomas said. “He never wants to be underprepared. He wants to make sure he does everything he can so that he makes it feel like we have the best chance we can to win. And that’s very comforting as a player, because I have all the faith in the world in my caddie.”

Thomas began his round on Friday on the 10th tee and had two birdies and a bogey in his opening nine to make the turn at four under par for the tournament. With impressive length off the tee — he averaged 312.2 yards in driving distance Friday — he was able to par the challenging first two par-4 holes, which both measured more than 480 yards long. Two more pars followed at the third and fourth holes, and on the par-5 fifth hole, he sank a 24-foot birdie putt. After three routine pars, Thomas smashed a pinpoint drive on his final hole, and his approach shot from 92 yards to the uphill, plateaued ninth green stopped nine feet from the pin. Thomas then calmly rolled in his last birdie putt.

“I’m just feeling very comfortable standing over the ball, which is a good feeling,” Thomas said. “The way I played the last hole, I couldn’t have really drawn it up any better. Leaving that gap wedge from the fairway just under the hole there and making that putt right in the middle. That was a nice way to end it.”

Zalatoris, who was tied for sixth at the Masters last month and was the Masters runner-up a year ago, had five birdies without a bogey on Friday. Pereira had seven birdies with one bogey. Bubba Watson, who was the elder near the top of the leaderboard at 43, shot 63 in the second round and was in fourth place. Rory McIlroy, 33, shot 71 Friday and is tied for fifth overall with Davis Riley and Abraham Ancer.

Woods was four over par after the first round and played his opening nine holes on Friday in even par with a birdie on the fifth hole and a sloppy bogey on the eighth.

After sinking a 10-foot birdie putt on the 10th hole, Woods dropped to three under for the tournament. He then made what appeared to be a devastating mistake on the par 3 11th hole when his tee shot landed left of the green and a delicate flop shot sailed over the green and trickled into a bunker. That blunder led to a double bogey, which pushed Woods to five over par — and outside the cut line.

But Woods found the resolve for a spirited comeback. He rolled in an eight-foot birdie putt at the par 5 13th hole and made another birdie putt from four feet after a spectacular approach shot from 209 yards on the par 4 16th hole. He concluded his round with pars on the closing two holes.

Afterward, Woods, who is three over par for the tournament, said he was just happy “to play golf again.” He added: “You can’t win the tournament if you miss the cut. I’ve won tournaments — not major championships — but I’ve won tournaments on the cut number. There’s a reason why you fight hard and you’re able to give yourself a chance on the weekend. You just never know when you might get hot.”