ERIN, Wis. – Even after an opening 1-over 73 that left him eight shots off the pace, Justin Thomas didn’t think for one second that his chances of winning the 117th U.S. Open had vanished.
“I know that I’m good enough to have those poor stretches and still win tournaments, even at the biggest stage,” said Thomas, who has three victories this season, shot 59 at the Sony Open and currently sits second in the FedEx Cup standings.
Thomas, 24, is a big-time player, and he played more like it Friday at Erin Hills. The Goshen, Ky., native made six birdies and carded a 3-under 69 to claw his way back into contention.
He made an early bogey, at the par-4 12th hole, before stringing together three straight birdies, at Nos. 15-17. Thomas stuffed his approach at 15, drained a 35-footer at 16 and then fired another approach in tight at 17.
His birdie at 17 got him to 2 under. That was right about the time his playing competitor, Paul Casey, caught fire, birdieing five straight holes to get to 7 under.
“I just remember on 17 he was at 2 under and I made a putt (to get to 2 under),” Thomas recalled. “He made birdie and I remember that if he missed that we were tied, and he started eight (shots) ahead of me. And then all of a sudden we got to 4 and he’s back at 7 (under), and I didn’t even realize it. I looked up at the leaderboard and I’m like, ‘How? What happened there? Why am I not at 7?’
“Now that I think about it, that’s kind of a bummer for me that I could’ve been there and not him.”
Yet, Thomas knows he can take advantage of Erin Hills, a lengthy course that fits his power game. He’s playing well; he just needs to keep hitting more fairways. He hit just nine on Thursday and was one better on Friday.
“I easily could’ve made so many birdies these last two days,” Thomas said.
He can make up for it this weekend.