Brendon Todd shot a 5-under 65 on Friday and will take a two-stroke lead into the weekend at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Todd entered the second day at TPC Southwind two shots back of overnight leader Brooks Koepka, but a flawless round of 13 pars and five birdies, highlighted by a trio of back-nine gains on Nos. 11, 14 and 15, placed Todd in the pole position at halftime.
“Definitely another solid round all around, but mostly with the short game,” said Todd, who leads the field in Putts/GIR with 1.50. “I have not hit the ball as crisply the first two days and maybe some other tournaments this year, but I’ve probably putted the best of any tournament this year so far.
“You know, I’m really excited about how I played and looking forward to the opportunity this weekend.”
Rickie Fowler posted a day-two 67, highlighted by a pair of closing birdies to secure solo-second at 9-under par. He was two clear of Koepka, who turned with the lead at 10-under par but collapsed down the stretch with a double and two bogeys en route to a 1-over 71. The defending champion will enter Saturday’s round tied for third on 7-under par, alongside Korea’s Byeong Hun An (65) and Chez Reavie (67).
Afterwards, Koepka cited poor putting for his back-nine woes.
“I just putted bad. It wasn’t really anything other than that. Felt stress-free other than just missing some short ones,” said a frustrated Koepka, who will also defend at next week’s PGA Championship.
“On the back nine they felt good, they were just missing, and on the front they just weren’t good putts.”
One further back at 6-under par was Englishman Matthew Fitzpatrick, who shot a low-round 64 to move 30 spots up the board, landing at T6 alongside Sung Kang (69).
“I played really, really well. I had a couple of holes where I put myself out of position off the tee, but managed to sort of get up and down for par, which is obviously very key around here,” said Fitzpatrick, who ranks second this week in strokes gained: putting (6.753).
“If you miss the greens, the rough can be very penal. No, just hit the ball really solid and the last two days I’ve putted unbelievable. I’ve got a lot of it down to that and hopefully just keep going over the weekend.”
Sitting T8 on 5-under par was a four-flag group comprised of Aussie Jason Day (67), Korean Sungjae Im (68), American Webb Simpson (66), and South African Louis Oosthuizen (67).
Justin Thomas, who could take over the world No. 1 spot with a win this week, was seven off the pace, following a second-round 70.
Todd will be paired with Fowler in Saturday’s final grouping.
“I’ve known Brendon for quite some time, playing amateur golf against him. Obviously he was a great amateur player,” said Fowler.
“I didn’t really see him as he was going through his struggles, but heard about it just because a lot of mutual friends.
“He’s close with a lot of guys on the Georgia team. So pretty cool to see where he was, what he went through and to where he is now. Pretty impressive.”
Todd, the 35-year old former Georgia Bulldog, will be seeking his third victory of the season, with his first two titles coming during the wraparound portion of the season.
Fowler, meanwhile, will be in search of his first top-10 finish since the Tour’s covid-19 reboot.
“Yeah, this year hasn’t been my greatest. Been working on a lot of stuff. I think this year’s been interesting for a lot of people as far as just how everything’s coming about, from quarantine to playing, not playing. I feel like I’m heading in the right direction,” said Fowler, who’s fallen to No. 32 in the world rankings.
“I think that’s been my main goal is go through some changes for the better. Sometimes you’ve got to take that step back to take two steps forward. I feel like we already made the step back, I feel like we’ve made a step forward. I’m looking for that next step.”
Top 10 Leaders
Pos-Player-To Par (Today)
1. Brendon Todd -11 (-5)
2. Rickie Fowler -9 (-3)
3. Byeong-Hun An -7 (-5)
3. Brooks Koepka -7 (+1)
3. Chez Reavie -7 (-3)
6. Sung Kang -6 (-1)
6. Matthew Fitzpatrick -6 (-6)
8. Jason Day -5 (-3)
8. Webb Simpson -5 (-4)
8. Sungjae Im -5 (-2)
8. Louis Ooshuizen -5 (-3)
1. Bryson DeChambeau – 324.2
2. Dustin Johnson – 319.1
3. Brooks Koepka – 318.0
1. Chez Reavie – 25/28, 89.3%
2. Matt Jones – 22/28, 78.6%
3. Six Players Tied – 21/28, 75.0%
1. Brooks Koepka – 29/36, 80.6%
2. Five Players Tied – 28/36, 78.6%
Putts Per GIR
1. Brendon Todd – 36/1.500
1. Jordan Spieth – 24/1.500
3. Kevin Kisner – 26/1.529
1. Brooks Koepka – 12
1. Rickie Fowler – 12
1. Brendon Todd – 12
1. Byeong-Hun An – 12
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Overall, you’ve won twice this season, you’ve been in the mix a few other times. Is this the most confident you’ve felt in your career?
Brendon Todd: “Absolutely, yeah. In my whole life, this is definitely the most confident I’ve ever felt with my golf game. It’s probably the most versatile I’ve ever been ball-striking-wise. I still don’t hit it far, but I feel like I’m able to shape shots a little bit. And my short game’s solid, so it just kind of comes down to how the putting is.”
Credit: PGA Tour Media, Getty Images