There were many ways to write the story of Justin Thomas’ second round at the PGA Championship, but none more eloquent than the bright yellow brushstroke that followed him all afternoon.
For four-and-a-half hours on Friday, shot-tracing technology tracked Thomas’ every precise swing at Southern Hills. And for four-and-a-half hours, the tracer colored in the lines of one of the most impressive ball-striking performances from any player in recent memory.
There will be more than 150 scores recorded Friday at the PGA Championship, and though a few may be lower (none were as of this writing), there will be none better than Thomas’ three under.
It was a 67 borne routinely — four birdies against a lone bogey. A 67 that did not feature a signature shot or a viral moment. A 67 that was over before ESPN even went on the air Friday afternoon.
But it was also a 67 that came amid some of the worst conditions we’ve seen in professional golf in 2022. A 67 that required Thomas to slice through 40 mph gusts, flighting the ball into elevated greens, through thick rough and away from dastardly bunkers filled with pebbly sand. A 67 that required the headiness of the 64 and, to those of us watching Thomas’ shot tracers all afternoon, looked more like a 61.
“I played really, really well today,” Thomas said afterward. “The conditions were obviously very difficult. 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.”
At the halfway point of Friday’s (considerably easier) second wave, Thomas (six under) remained in the lead. This was a deserving feat, considering the winds of the morning were so difficult, the grounds crew at Southern Hills elected not to mow the greens for fear it would blow balls off the putting surfaces.
It was a particularly deserving feat for Thomas, who’s now fallen on the wrong side of the draw in two big events in 2022. At the Players Championship in March, Thomas’ late Thursday/early Friday slot left him competing in sopping rain and similarly howling winds. He finished that week well outside of contention despite strong weekend performances.
At the PGA, the shift in fortune was earned with every swing on Friday, right down to the 20-foot birdie that tumbled in on the 18th green. Thomas will enter the weekend at Southern Hills with considerably better odds than he did at Sawgrass. It’s a good break for a guy whose confidence surged with every yellow-streaked stinger Friday.
“I have confidence that I can execute still and hit the shots that I want,” Thomas said. “I would like to hope a little bit of it is skill, that I’ve worked hard enough that I’m good enough to be able to execute that kind of stuff.”
It’s been 14 months since Thomas’ last pro victory. It was then, at the 2021 Players, that JT looked primed to go on the kind of major championship-winning run that’s been predicted of him for the better part of the last decade.
Things haven’t broken his way since then, but at the PGA Championship, Thomas recognizes a chance to rewrite the script.
“It’s golf, so it’s pretty hard sometimes. I mean, I like this golf course. I feel like I’m playing well,” Thomas said. “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. Just need to try to maintain that the best that I can and keep trying to play good golf.”
There’s lots more to write, obviously. But if Friday was the second chapter of Thomas’ major championship comeback, it was written in yellow.