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Thursday must’ve felt like ages ago for Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas as the duo left The Northern Trust door ajar heading into the weekend. After opening rounds of 63, both stalled on Friday. While Thomas experienced an extremely up-and-down second-round, Rahm held steady, only to lack the first-round fireworks.
We’ll begin with the world No. 1 as he was the half of the duo that was able to successfully hold onto the lead. With four birdies against zero bogeys, Rahm remained bogey-free for the week, getting to 12-under for the tournament. Despite keeping the mistakes to a minimum, zero in fact, there is still ample room for improvement.
Leading the field in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green, Rahm’s ball-striking (Off-the-Tee and Approach) has been world-class. Seemingly putting for birdie on every hole, Rahm has only missed seven greens in regulation through the halfway point. Ranking fifth in SG: Off-the-Tee and second in SG: Approach, Rahm has struggled a touch from around-the-green, losing strokes to the field in said category.
If he expects to go wire-to-wire, a feat no player has done this year, with Nick Taylor at the 2020 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am being the last, he’ll likely need to make some strides in that area of the game. With players going low on Friday, more of the same could be in store this weekend, meaning any flaw in one’s game has the potential to ruin aspirations of victory.
While Rahm was trading birdies and pars, Thomas was trading bogeys, pars, birdies, and eagles. Starting his Friday with two bogeys in his first three holes, it appeared as if the wheels had officially fallen off the world No. 5. Posting 2.51 SG: Putting in Round 1, regression was always a concern, and after turning in 3-over 38, things could have gone even further south.
Yet, the grit and resolve that we are so used to seeing out of Thomas raised its head once again at Liberty National. Going 5-under in his last five holes, Thomas was able to rebound for a round of 2-under 69. At 10-under, he sits in a tie for third and only two-strokes behind Rahm.
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With the overnight leaders unable to repeat their Thursday success, the rest of the field took advantage of the benign conditions and closed the gap. In the early wave, it was Tony Finau who made the most noise just outside of the Big Apple. With eight birdies and only one bogey, Finau propelled himself up the leaderboard going into Round 3.
On the Team USA bubble, a strong weekend and a potential victory could go a long way for Finau’s Ryder Cup hopes. One of the bright spots for the Americans in Paris in 2018, Finau currently requires a captain’s selection. With qualification coming to an end at the completion of the BMW Championship, time is of the essence for Finau.
Three players all but confirmed on that USA squad who brought the roars to Liberty National in the afternoon were Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, and Xander Schauffele. Spieth and Schauffele arguably got the all they could out of their respective rounds, each carding two eagles, one bogey, and tying the course record. The same can’t be said for Koepka, who missed numerous short efforts for birdie. Going a combined 25-under on Friday, the trio are well within striking distance to track down Rahm who is listed at +160 at PointsBet Sportsbook.
Updated Odds to Win (Odds Via PointsBet):
+160: Jon Rahm
+1400: Jordan Spieth
+2000: Brooks Koepka
+3500: Patrick Cantlay
+5000: Bryson DeChambeau
Round 3 Plays (Odds Via PointsBet):
Bryson DeChambeau (+5000 to win):
We’ll begin with the good as DeChambeau sits at 6-under for the tournament and only six-strokes behind Rahm. In a tie for 17th, there are a number of big names that the 2018 Northern Trust champion will need to leapfrog in order to be in contention come the back-nine on Sunday. However, there is hope, as the firepower has not been lacking for DeChambeau at Liberty National.
Leading the field in birdies through the first two rounds, the American has carded 16 of them plus an eagle thus far. Converting a par-breaker on nearly 50 percent of the holes that he has played, DeChambeau unsurprisingly leads the field in SG: Approach and should continue to give himself opportunity after opportunity moving forward.
Yet with the good, comes the bad. In Round 1, DeChambeau carded five bogeys and two double-bogeys to offset his flurry of birdies. He improved on Friday, making only three bogeys and no double-bogeys, possibly signaling to more tame rounds over the weekend, even if the New Jersey crowd is likely to be the opposite.
He showed signs of progress on the greens today, but around-the-green he will need to be much, much better. His Achilles’ heel the past month or so, his short-game hasn’t looked the same since Torrey Pines in June. If that part of the game comes around, he's been making enough headway in the other aspects of his bag that I believe he could chase down the world No. 1 over the next 36 holes.
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