The fierce Oklahoma winds subsided Friday afternoon giving players an opportunity to put their stamp on the 104th PGA Championship. Will Zalatoris was the man up to the challenge as the reigning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year threw dart after dart at Southern Hills and propelled his name to the top of the leaderboard in the year's second major.
Carding rounds of 66-65, Zalatoris finds himself at 9 under and has yet again played himself into contention in a major. Still searching for his first career victory, the 25-year-old will have his work cut out for him as numerous big names, major champions and wily veterans are waiting in the shallows for the moment he slips up. The good news? All seven major winners at Southern Hills have held the lead or co-lead after 36 holes, just like Zalatoris this year.
Among those looking to run him down is Justin Thomas, who put together the performance of the morning in the second round . One of two names inside the top 10 to have played out of the more difficult tee time split, the 2017 PGA Championship winner looks to raise a trophy for the first time in over a year. Thomas's game has been trending for the better part of three months, and the same can be said for first-round leader Rory McIlroy. Unable to follow up his opening 5-under 65, the 33-year-old now finds himself five strokes off Zalatoris' lead but not without a chance to capture his fifth career major title.
There is still plenty of action to touch on and that is exactly what we plan to do. Below is a rundown of the leaderboard as it stands after Round 2.
1. Will Zalatoris (-9): Peas and carrots. Peanut butter and jelly. Will Zalatoris and major championship conditions. The Wake Forest product has been terrific on golf's biggest stage in his young career, boasting four top-10 finishes in only seven starts. He appears well on his way to adding to this total and doing so in a serious manner. Zalatoris always strikes the ball, well and this week, the putter has decided to cooperate as well as he leads the field in strokes gained putting. He is 18 for 18 on putts inside 10 feet so far in this tournament. Weekends at majors are entirely different animals, so if nerves creep in, it will likely show up on the greens.
2. Mito Pereira (-8): There are a number of parallels between Zalatoris and Pereira. Their statistical profiles are eerily similar, and neither have won on the PGA Tour despite a number of close calls to name a couple. The Chilean was a Battlefield Promotion from the Korn Ferry Tour last summer and looks at ease in his PGA Championship debut. In his second major championship start, Pereira fired a 6-under 64 and will have the last tee time on Saturday alongside Zalatoris.
3. Justin Thomas (-6): It has been an impressive first two days for Thomas, who has carded nine birdies against just three bogeys. His second-round 67 will get all the hype, and rightfully so, but I can't help but go back to his 18th hole on Thursday. Stealing a stroke on the field with a birdie on the difficult par 4, Thomas rode this late momentum into one of the rounds of the morning on Friday. He has been outspoken the last half decade about wanting to add another major championship to his resume, and now he worked himself within reach of his second Wanamaker Trophy.
4. Bubba Watson (-5): The round of the championship belongs to the two-time Masters champion as Watson came out firing Friday afternoon with a career-best nine birdies in a major round. Signing for a 7-under 63, Watson not only tied the course record held by Tiger Woods and Raymond Floyd but more importantly played himself back into contention after a disappointing first round of 2 over. On a course where creativity and shot making are required, should we really be surprised Watson finds his name on the first page of the leaderboard?
T5. Rory McIlroy, Abraham Ancer and Davis Riley (-4): McIlroy was in the better end of the weather draw, so his second round of 1 over is that much more disappointing. Still, the four-time major champion is right in the thick of it despite his troubles on Friday. He continued to drive the ball like a stallion, but the iron play and putter abandoned him as he was unable to garner any momentum.
T8. Matt Fitzpatrick and Stewart Cink (-3): Cink infamously missed a short bogey putt on the 72nd hole of the 2001 U.S. Open to fall out of a playoff with Retief Goosen and Mark Brooks. Now, 21 years later, the 49-year-old is back in the hunt at Southern Hills and is the likeliest candidate to follow in Phil Mickelson's unlikely footsteps from a year ago.
T10. Cameron Smith, Sam Burns and five others (-2): This is probably the farthest back I would go to find a potential winner as this is a group which possesses plenty of firepower. Burns made a strong push up the leaderboard on Friday with a round of 3 under alongside Cameron Young, who has turned in identical rounds of 71-67.
T30. Jordan Spieth and 10 others (+1): The grand slam dream is technically still alive no matter how faint the heartbeat may be. Spieth will look back to his opening round with disdain as he simply could not make anything on the greens. He fought back valiantly on Friday, but unless something cataclysmic happens to the leaders, he will have to wait until next year's PGA Championship for another chance to join golf's elites.
T53. Tiger Woods and 10 others (+3): There something about a 46-year-old 15-time major champion grinding to make the cut late on a Friday that is satisfying to watch. Outside of the par-3 11th, Woods looked strong en route to his 1-under 69 and even got the better of his playing competitor McIlroy. His body has to be hurting, but I like to think he will put together a better weekend effort compared to that at the 2022 Masters.
Rick Gehman, Jonathan Coachman and Greg DuCharme recap Friday's action at the PGA Championship. Follow & listen to The First Cut on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.