By Joe Smeltzer
Akron, OH — At the end of yesterday’s first-round at the WGC-Bridgestone invitational, Ian Poulter was alone atop the leaderboard, shooting a 62 to finish eight under-par through the first 18 holes, but Friday, that all changed.
By no means was this on Poulter, who more than held his own at Firestone Country Club Friday, shooting three under-par to move to 11-under par for the tournament, he is now one of three players at the top sharing honors with Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Thomas.
Tommy Fleetwood shot a 63 to finish seven under-par, Justin Thomas was right behind him at six-under and for the first time since 2011, when four men occupied the top spot, there is a tie for first place in Akron going into Saturday’s third round.
Thomas entered the day three strokes behind Poulter’s lead, and his Friday-morning success was largely due to six birdies. He cited playing well on the green as vital to his second-round performance.
“It was definitely one of the better putting days I’ve had in a while,” Thomas said. “I just hit a lot of quality putts. That’s what’s most important. It can be frustrating on the last day if you have a chance to win a tournament and you’re hitting a lot of good putts that don’t go in. Those first couple days, if you’re hitting a lot of good putts that are burning edges or lipping out, you know they’re going to fall.”
Thomas only had one bogey on the day, which came on the par-5 16th hole. He was in danger of picking up a double-bogey, but saved himself by sinking an 11’ 7” putt. Thomas said that his bounce back on 16 gave him confidence for the rest of the round.
“Especially [on] a par 5, you never want to make a double [bogey], although [the 16th hole] is difficult– a lot harder [of a] par 5 than others,” Thomas said. “That was a difficult putt, it had a lot of break on it. So both that and saving a shot gave me some confidence.”
Fleetwood didn’t have any bogeys on the day, picking up seven birdies and parring the other 11 holes. With a 63, Fleetwood tied his lowest PGA TOUR round, matching his performance on the final day of this year’s U.S. Open. Although there were times when he got himself into trouble, Fleetwood said, he was able to get out of those situations without any major damage.
“[I] played well,” Fleetwood said. “[I] got out of position a couple of times. When I did, I kind of got away with the tee shot on 14 and made a really good four. Overall I drove it well. My irons, I just tended to hit exactly where we were picking the spots and I holed a few putts. You’ve got days like [today] where it’s going well and you’ve just got to make the most of them.”
The past five tournaments in which Thomas has held at least a share of the lead after 36 holes, he has gone on to win. Thomas recognizes, however, that the difficulty of Firestone can make it difficult to maintain momentum.
“I feel that I can get it done on any golf course, but the thing about this place is it’s— it’s so demanding that you can— I mean, you can shot 74 just as quickly as you shoot 64,” Thomas said. “If you’re just not playing well, you can shoot a high number.”
Assessing what ultimately is his co-lead, Fleetwood was simply pleased with the way his day turned out.
“It was just a good day,” he said. “One of those days where you keep going.”
Photo credit: PGA TOUR