Recap of the day
Yet again wind was a factor on Jeju Island. Justin Thomas thrashed a brilliant 9-under-par 63 to take a two shot lead into the weekend on 13-under 131 and admitted that he had seen very little wind compared to his experiences on the course in the past. Pre-round leader Byeong Hun An then completed a Friday 69 to join Danny Lee (66) on 11-under and said that the wind had become tricky late in his lap. There is a further two shot gap to the pair who are tied fourth on 9-under after 36 holes. Jordan Spieth hit a sparkling 65 and Emiliano Grillo a neat 66.
Low round of the day: Thomas’ 63
Revised outright betting
Thomas 5/6, An 6/1, Spieth 10/1, Lee 12/1, Smith 20/1, Grillo 20/1
Saturday weather forecast
The wind was NNW Friday and will be NNE Saturday (then ENE Sunday); more proof the course is a swirling test. Saturday will be partly cloudy with high humidity (73%) and temperatures in the mid-60s.
Leaders at 36 holes
Justin Thomas (63, 131) – His halfway total breaks the tournament record by four shots and his 63 was one blow from equalling the course record. Missed just one green in R2 and is 6-for-6 at Scrambling through 36 holes.
Byeong Hun An (69, 133) – He’s blitzing the par-3s, currently 5-under on them through 36 holes, the best in the field. Second for Putt Average for the week (1.567).
Danny Lee (66, 133) – Briefly held a share of the lead with Thomas before differing fortunes on the last (Lee made bogey, Thomas birdie).
Jordan Spieth (65, 135) – Leads the field in par-5 scoring (7-under) and Putt Average (1.519), and is tied with Thomas for birdie count.
Emiliano Grillo (66, 135) – Tied first for Greens in Regulation through two rounds (32-of-36) but is T33rd for Putt Average (1.781).
Fate of the favorites
Justin Thomas – see above
Brooks Koepka (75, 144) – Opened on the back nine, made four bogeys and added another on his last hole of the day. 24-of-36 greens in regulation has him ranked T58 in the field.
Hideki Matsuyama (70, 139) – Grisly from the tee box, finding just five fairways on a course when just about everyone is finding most of them. It didn’t stop him hitting 15 greens in regulation, but he’s draining very few putts, possibly because he’s not giving himself the chance to attack pins.
Tommy Fleetwood (70, 141) – Nothing wrong with finding 29-of-36 greens in regulation, but his Putt Average of 2.000 for the week has him a dismal 76th in the field.
Justin Thomas (63) - “I didn't do anything unbelievably. A very stress-free day. I kept the ball in play off the tee, hit some good irons, made a couple of putts early. A very easy 63 if you can say that, hopefully, be able to keep that going for the weekend. The 63 two years ago was probably better. It was quite a bit windier if I remember correctly. I'll take 63 in any conditions, on any course, any day, but it was very, very benign out there.”
Byeong Hun An (69) - “The course is not that easy when the wind swirls a little bit and picks up a little bit like today. Had to stay patient, you know you'll make birdies out there. It's nice to play in front of (Koreans) and I feel a lot of support, so it's been helping definitely.”
Jordan Spieth (65) - “As far as ball control, there's still some work to do for sure. I would call it kind of B for ball control, but I was A-plus putting. That was one of the better putting rounds I can remember having.”
Road to victory at The Club at Nine Bridges
2018/19 Brooks Koepka – R1: 11th, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st
2017/18 Justin Thomas – R1: 1st, R2: 4th, R3: 1st
Notes: History tells us, albeit in a tiny sample, that the eventual winner is usually on the pace-setter’s shoulder at this stage. Repeat warning – it’s only been played twice.
Fate of the halfway leaders at the CJ CUP – where did they finish?
2018/19 Scott Piercy 5th
2017/18 Luke List 5th
Notes: Rather neatly both these 36-hole leaders led by one and after Saturday trailed by four – in addition to ending the week fifth. They both failed to break par in R3 as well.
Focus on – Viktor Hovland
His second 69 of the week was a smart enough start in the tournament (he is T12), but it also extended his record of rounds in the 60s. On Wednesday he was already tied with Bob Estes’ record set in 1983 and he now not only owns but is stretching it. It’s intriguing that he emerged alongside Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa as the hot trio in mid-summer and is the only one of them yet to win. Does this record hint at greater consistency and the possibility of long term potential? A moot point maybe. Hovland himself said: “It's cool. Obviously I would have liked to have maybe higher finishes in the tournaments that I've played, but it really goes to show the consistency that I've had over the summer and hopefully, I can continue the streak, shoot a little lower.” His secret to making the record his own? “I didn't really think much about it because I played in England three weeks ago and I didn't shoot rounds in the 60s there.”
The ten-time winner worldwide holds a solid enough advantage at halfway, what of his record in this position in the past? He’s converted five of his nine 36 hole leads (including shares), but he has won each of the last three times he has held the 36-hole lead outright, at the CIMB Classic in 2015 and 2016, then the 2017 Sony Open. He already owns three PGA Tour wins in Asia in just eight starts.
A little note. The Kiwi is in a great position ahead of the weekend, but if his memory is half decent he might have a few qualms about what lies ahead. This is his second appearance in the event and two years ago he opened with 71-73 before limping home in 80-79 – a pair of scorecards like that surely resonate so what happens next will be interesting.