Ringo Chiu Going better: Tiger Woods.
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Thomas seizes PGA Zozo lead as Tiger follows 76 with 66 and McIlroy also improves
A better day for Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods in Califronia.

AMERICAN JUSTN THOMA, seeking his third US PGA title of the year, fired a seven-under par 65 to grab a one-stroke lead after Friday’s second round of the Zozo Championship.

The 2017 PGA Championship winner birdied seven of the first 12 holes in a bogey-free round to stand on 14-under 130 after 36 holes at Sherwood Country Club.

“Got off to a hot start today and kind of coasted coming in,” Thomas said. “If you are getting the ball in play off the tee there are so many scoring clubs. You can attack it if you are really playing well.”

South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli and American Lanto Griffin each closed with a bogey to settle for 65 and sharing second on 131 with Americans Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler sharing fourth on 132 after 65s.

A pack on 133 included Bubba Watson and Patrick Reed, who each shot 63, and fellow American Richy Werenski, who set a course record with a 61.

He made six birdies on both the front and back nine against a lone bogey at the par-4 sixth to break the old mark of 62 set by Tiger Woods.

Defending Zozo champion Woods, who won last year in Japan before the event was moved to suburban Los Angeles due to the Covid-19 pandemic, opened with a 76 but bounced back with a 66, matching his best since last year’s Zozo.

“I hit the ball so much better,” Woods said. “Today was a lot more sharp and a lot more crisp and clean.”

Woods birdied four of the first six holes and two of the last three but still shared 66th in a field of 77. He had four birdies and a par on the par-5 holes after going 3-over on them Thursday.

“Yesterday was not very good,” Woods said. “I really didn’t swing the club that poorly. I was just a fraction off and I got out of position a couple times. It just snowballed into a high number. Was never really able to get any kind of momentum going.

“Today was different. Got off to a much better start and kept rolling.”

Woods, who will defend his 15th major title at next month’s Masters, says he feels much better than he did at last month’s US Open, when he missed the cut and battled a sore back.

“I am moving a lot better,” Woods said. “Having four weeks off was good. Training sessions have been good so everything has kind of turned around.”

Meanwhile, a round of 67 after a disappointing 73 on day one saw Rory McIlroy climb the leaderboard, though just to a tie for 57th on 140.

At the top, Thomas, who began on the back nine, tapped in for birdie at the par-5 11th to start of run of four consecutive birdies that included a putt from just inside 17 feet at the par-3 12th and just outside 17 feet at the par-4 14th.

He added birdies at the par-5 16th, par-4 first and par-3 third but closed with six pars, including a 15-foot rescue effort at the par-3 eighth.

“That was great,” Thomas said. “I hit a nice bunker shot. That was big. When you are bogey-free that late in a round, that’s always nice.”

Thomas has won four US PGA titles from the seven prior times he shot 130 for 36 holes.

“Just continue to attack,” Thomas said. “You can go low. You need to have the gas pedal down if you want to be around that lead.” 

- Thank you All Blacks -

Frittelli owes a debt to his homeland’s rugby rivals, the New Zealand All Blacks.

“I made a little mental switch,” Frittelli said. “It’s a little thing I read in a book. It’s called Legacy. It has got to do with mindset (of) the All Blacks, obviously one of the best teams in the world, a little thing in there that I found.”

Griffin birdied six of the first eight holes on the back nine but was unhappy at only two front-nine birdies.

“It’s gettable and you need to keep the pedal down,” he said. “You can’t get complacent around here. You need to keep going.” 

You can see the leaderboard here.

© – AFP, 2020

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