Justin Thomas living up to his own expectations midway through 2020 Masters
Comfortable at Augusta National Golf Club since his first visit, Justin Thomas has felt he possessed the course knowledge and game plan to contend for a Masters title.
Poor execution in his first four appearances -- particularly on the greens -- denied the No. 3 player in the world the success he’s enjoyed elsewhere in professional golf.
Everyone knew he had the skills to succeed here, too. Through two rounds in the 2020 Masters Tournament, his ball striking and putting have matched his insight. Thomas birdied his final two holes in the second round Friday to reach 9-under for the tournament and earn a share of the overnight lead.
He enters the weekend looking for much more than his first top-10 finish at Augusta National.
“It's definitely not as low as I feel like I could or should be, but we're in good position going into the weekend,” he said.
Thomas wasn’t pleased with how his first-round 66 ended, either. He missed a downhill 9-foot birdie putt on the 18th green around 9:45 a.m. and squandered other good chances in the closing holes. He ate a quick snack and spent the rest of the 30-minute break with putting coach John Graham, who he started seeing in September.
“A little something was off and I was just trying to figure out what it was,” Thomas said. “I had an idea, but I just wanted confirmation from him. We just kind of did that and stuck to what we were doing and I got back out there.”
He also knew the receptive greens would yield scoring opportunities if he remained patient.
“You can make so many birdies out here if you have control of your golf ball,” Thomas said. “You're driving it well. You have a fair amount of short irons into the greens. And the greens are so good, if you get it in the right spots, you can make it from everywhere.”
One of the best iron players in golf, Thomas has hit 80.56% of the greens in regulation (10th in the field) and ranks seventh in proximity to the hole through 36 holes.
The stellar approach shots have helped him generate 13 birdies, and two in particular were critical to his momentum in the second round.
Thomas was 2 over on his first five holes after a poor wedge forced him to settle for par at 14. From the fairway on the No. 15, he used a 5-wood from 232 yards out to set up an easy two-putt birdie on the par 5. Thomas put the club in his bag five years ago specifically for Augusta National, which in most years demands high, soft approach shots to hold the firm greens.
“15 was a really, really good shot,” Thomas said. “I was in between clubs. I knew if I roasted a 4-iron I could get there, but that wasn’t the appropriate play.”
It was the first of four birdies to close the side and gave Thomas a share of the lead at 8 under making the turn.
He squandered the momentum with a sloppy double-bogey 6 on No. 1, yelling out in frustration and shaking his head as he stood on the back of the green. An errant drive on No. 2 found the fairway bunker but, after laying up, he rebounded again, hitting a wedge approach to six feet that set up another birdie and kept him within reach of the lead.
Thomas made his first trip to Augusta National in February 2012, when he was a member of the University of Alabama golf team as the guest of a teammate’s father. He made six birdies that day and also developed a healthy respect for the course.
At times in past Masters, he gave too much respect to the trouble spots to avoid at Augusta National and it hindered his scoring. His best finish is a tie for 12th last year.
“I kind of go back to that round, like, dude, remember you made six birdies (at Augusta National) when you were a freshman in college,” he said. “I would hope you’d be able to handle it in your fifth appearance now.”
So far, he has.