Justin Thomas one back, admits it wasn't easy starting Tour Championship with a lead

Butch Dill/USA TODAY Sports

Justin Thomas one back, admits it wasn't easy starting Tour Championship with a lead

PGA Tour

Justin Thomas one back, admits it wasn't easy starting Tour Championship with a lead

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After squandering his two-shot advantage with a shaky start at East Lake, Justin Thomas was in more familiar territory Friday at the Tour Championship.

The 2017 FedEx Cup champion began the second round in a three-way tie for the lead with Brooks Koepka and Xander Schauffele after allowing the field to catch up with an even-par 72 Thursday.

If he was a little more comfortable Friday after serving as the guinea pig frontrunner for the new scoring format, it showed.

Thomas shot 3-under 32 on the front nine and ultimately carded a 2-under 68. Now he’s one back of outright leader Brooks Koepka after failing to take advantage of a hot start on the back nine.

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“Today felt normal. Yesterday was weird,” Thomas said. “It’s just so odd looking over and seeing 10 under. I don’t care who you are … I would think everybody is gonna play differently when they start with a lead versus everybody being tied. I thought it was gonna be easy for me to just play a tournament. It wasn’t.”

Thomas is testing uncharted waters this week, one off the 36-hole lead despite a performance that would normally place him near the middle of the leaderboard.

That’s his reward for blitzing the field at last week’s BMW Championship, where he jumped to No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings and gave himself a chance at his second season-long title with an even bigger bonus – $15 million in 2019, compared to the $10 million he banked in 2017.

His standing shows the Tour’s emphasis on its playoff structure after Thomas picked up his only win of the season at Medinah. It’s been an adjustment, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of the leaderboard its produced through two days at East Lake.

Thomas’ momentum slowed a bit after returning from an hour-plus rain delay. At 5:30 p.m. ET Thomas was trudging back up the 10th fairway, his dad, Mike Thomas, along for the walk at first before moving outside the ropes with umbrella in tow.

Thomas and McIlroy chatted briefly upon arrival at the green where Thomas faced a 16-foot birdie putt that he’d had plenty of time to ponder.

The skyline of Atlanta is seen over the 18th hole at East Lake Golf Club as rain moves in to the area during the second round of the Tour Championship. Photo: Adam Hagy/USA TODAY Sports

It skirted past the cup and a back-nine grind was on, continuing at the par-3 11th with a tricky front pin. Thomas missed in the short right rough and took several exaggerated practice swings to test the surface.

His eyes locked in on the target and he chipped it close for an easy up-and-down.

Thomas looked much better off the tee to start and hit six fairways on the front nine, equaling Thursday’s 18-hole total. But the driver cooled off on the back, where he hit just one fairway to finish.

“I was going along really well and playing really well,” Thomas said. “It’s not that I didn’t play well when I came back. I hit plenty of good shots. (But) I hit more loose shots and obviously not making any birdies on the back nine, I think that speaks for itself.”

Manufactured or not, this new scoring system should bring plenty of weekend drama with three of the top five players in the Official World Golf Rankings on top of the board through 36 holes.

Thomas’ lead is gone, but his chances to take home the Cup are alive and well.

“I’m in a good spot,” Thomas said. “It’s anybody’s golf tournament. You just have to go out and get it.”

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