Brooks Koepka shot a second-consecutive 3-under 67 and will take a one-shot lead into the weekend at the Tour Championship.
Koepka, who entered the tournament with a FedExCup starting score of 7-under, offset one bogey with four birdies, including a hat trick on Nos. 6-8, to reach 13-under par.
“I mean, the lead’s always nice, so I’ll take that,” said Koepka, who hit 8 of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens.
“I played good today. I putted really good. Short game was pretty solid. The rain delay kind of killed any momentum I had.
“I didn’t feel like I had any good golf shots after the rain delay, but that’s part of golf. Everybody’s got to deal with the same thing, just didn’t execute.”
Walking to the 17th tee, Rory McIlroy found himself three back of co-leader Thomas, but following back-to-back birdies on Nos. 17 and 18 – coupled with a bogey-par finish by JT, the Northern Irishman was suddenly heading into the weekend tied with his American rival on 12-under par.
“It was great to finish with those two great birdies. I got lucky on 18. I didn’t hit a very good drive, and then I had — I shot to get it up near the green with my second, and then once I hit that, I had a great lie for my third, and I just sort of rode my luck the whole way along that hole,” said McIlroy, who has opened with rounds of 66 and 67, good for a share of the low gross.
“Yeah, sort of being three or four behind those guys for the most part of the day and then to catch J.T. and only be one back of Brooks, you know, it was nice to finish the way I did.”
Thomas, meanwhile, was much improved on Friday, especially on the front nine, where he hit 8 of 9 greens en route to a 3-under 32. But he was not quite as sharp following a lengthy rain delay, and closed his final nine with eight pars and a bogey to fall back to 12-under par.
“I didn’t get frustrated. It didn’t affect my mentality. It just affected my rhythm,” said Thomas, who hit just 3 of 9 greens after the rain delay. “I was going along really well and playing pretty well.
“It’s not that I didn’t play well when I came back. I hit plenty of good shots. I hit more loose shots, and obviously not making any birdies on the back nine, I think speaks for itself.”
Xander Schauffele appeared on his way to shooting his first over-par round at East Lake when he walked off the 16th green at 2-over par. But thanks to a birdie-eagle close, the San Diego native’s scoring streak was intact and so were his chances, sitting at 11-under par, just two off the pace.
“Probably the first time I can say that I’m very stoked to have a delay. I came back out swinging it much better than I did on the front nine,” said Schauffele, who leads the field in greens-hit (80.56, 29/36).
“So it was a nice reset. I felt like I could have — for how hard East Lake is, I gave myself a lot of good looks, uphill looks, and I didn’t make too many putts.
“It was nice to finish birdie, eagle.”
Paul Casey shot 67 to reach 9-under par, good for solo fifth-place, two shots clear of Patrick Cantlay (71) at 7-under.
Chez Reavie shot a low-round 64, highlighted by a hole-in-one on the par-3 ninth hole, to move to T7 on 6-under par, alongside Patrick Reed (70) and Matt Kuchar (72).
Pos-Player-To Par (Rd 1)
1 Brooks Koepka -13 (-3)
2 Justin Thomas -12 (-2)
2 Rory McIlroy -12 (-3)
4 Xander Schauffele -11 (-1)
5 Paul Casey -9 (-3)
6 Patrick Cantlay -7 (+1)
7 Chez Reavie -6 (-6)
7 Patrick Reed -6 (E)
7 Matt Kuchar -6 (+2)
8 Adam Scott -5 (-E)
Cumulative thru 36 holes
Low: Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey, Xander Schauffele (133, -7)
High: Lucas Glover (148, +8)
Birdies: Adam Scott (11)
Pars: Jon Rahm, Bryson DeChambeau (27)
Bogeys: Lucas Glover (11)
Distance: Brooks Koepka (328.4)
Fairways: Chez Reavie (24/28, 85.7)
Greens: Xander Schauffele (29/36, 80.6)
Via PGA TOUR YouTube
3:20 Brooks Koepka (-13), Justin Thomas (-12)
3:10 Rory McIlroy (-12), Xander Schauffele (-11)
3:00 Paul Casey (-9), Patrick Cantlay (-7)
2:50 Chez Reavie (-6), Patrick Reed (-6)
2:40 Matt Kuchar (-6), Adam Scott (-5)
U.S. Eastern Standard Time Zone
Credits: Fastscripts, PGA Tour Media, Getty Images