Justin Thomas again finds himself near top of Masters leaderboard

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Brian Mull, Special to USA Today Network
·3 min read
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In total control until a miscue on the 18th green, Justin Thomas cruised through the second round of the Masters Tournament on Friday, capitalizing on precise iron shots to fire a 5-under-par 67 and climb within three shots of the lead.

The closing three-putt from 26 feet was Thomas’ lone bogey, and first since the seventh hole in the opening round. In that span of 28 holes he escaped a 3-over hole and is in contention halfway through the Masters for the second consecutive year.

“I drove the ball a lot better, hit a lot more quality iron shots, had some great up and downs,” Thomas said. “It was easy. For as tough as this place has been playing, I felt like it was as easy as it could have been, other than the putt that I made on 11. I mean, a lot of my birdies have been pretty low stress or pretty easy. “

The No. 2 player in the world, Thomas is tied for seventh at 140 and looking to improve on his fourth-place finish here last fall. He’s hit the third-most greens in regulation (28 of 36) and scrambled to save par on five of eight chances.

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After a solid 2-under start through 10 holes of the second round, Thomas blitzed Amen Corner, making birdies on 11, 12 and 13, where he narrowly missed an eagle after his 189-yard second shot finished 11 feet from the back left hole location.

The 13th is routinely the easiest hole during the Masters, and a birdie or better is imperative for players in contention on the weekend. The hole has troubled Thomas in his previous five appearances because it’s an awkward tee shot that doesn’t fit his natural shot shape. He entered the week only 5 under in 20 rounds, with four bogeys due to errant drives.

On Friday he hit a low, running draw 301 yards around the corner, finding the fairway for the second consecutive day, a good sign going forward. It’s the same shot he hit on two of the par 5s at TPC Sawgrass last month on his march to the Players Championship title.

“So I feel like, if I get it on the ground like I did today, if that’s a normal ball flight, it’s going to fly and go through, but because it’s low enough, it’s going to take the contours and stay in the fairway,” he said. “Then if I pull it a little bit, it’s hopefully going to be far enough past, since it’s a driver, that it could get past the corner.”

A 341-yard tee shot on 15 set up an 8-iron second shot to the par 5, and he two-putted from the back fringe for birdie. Indifferent iron shots on the final three holes denied Thomas another realistic birdie chance.

“I definitely have left a lot of shots out there the last two days or two rounds, but I’m in a great position,” Thomas said. “I need to get over that three-putt pretty quickly because it’s over with. There’s nothing I can do about it.”

Thomas has more PGA Tour victories – 14 since joining the Tour in 2015 – than anyone else in the top 20. Jordan Spieth (12) and leader Justin Rose (10) are the only others in double digits. Thomas has won a major and beat other elite fields. He’s improved his position in each of his five previous Masters appearances and enters the weekend understanding what’s required to win the tournament.

“I can’t worry about what anybody else is doing. I know that I have confidence in myself, but I’m going to have to beat a lot of good players to do it,” he said. “I just need to get in my own little zone and my own little game, and I feel like, if I do that well, I should have a pretty good chance.”