TULSA, Okla. – Next Sunday, the heavy silver Wanamaker trophy will be hoisted by Will Zalatoris.
Yes, there are 36 holes left in the 104th PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club. Yes, the Lone Star State skinny kid hasn’t won on the PGA Tour. And yes, there is some serious firepower in pursuit.
But history is on the side of Zalatoris. Of the seven major championships played at Southern Hills, all have been won by a player who has managed or co-managed the 36-hole tournament. And Zalatoris is at the top of the ranking.
After a first-round 66, Zalatoris came home with a bogey-free, 5-under 65 on Friday to drop to 9-under halfway through. He is one step ahead of Chilean Mito Pereira, who is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is playing in only his second major. Pereira, who grew up playing with Joaquin Niemann, added a 64 in the second round to his 68 in the first.
“I got away with murder a few times today for sure, especially starting the day by hitting the trees on the left and punching it,” Zalatoris said. “Same thing on 17, being able to get out of there with a birdie where it looked like I was going to make 5.
“I continued the round today. I made a bunch of six, eight feet for par, and obviously being bogey-free around this spot is pretty nice.
Tiger, a four-time Wanamaker Trophy winner and 15-time major champion, fought his way into the weekend. Playing in only his second PGA Tour event in 18 months, and 15 months after a horrific car crash nearly claimed his life, Woods birdied on two of his final six holes to go one-shot in outside the cut line to one stroke below. His rounds of 74-69 left him 3 over.
“Well, you can’t win the tournament if you miss the cup,” Woods said. “There’s a reason you fight hard and you’re able to give yourself a chance at the weekend. You never know when you might get hot.
“This weekend, I’m going to have to go low. It will be different. The wind will come from the north. It will be cooler. »
After a quick turnaround, Justin Thomas made quick work of his second round. The 2017 PGA Champion, who was on the late side of things this week, birdied both his first and last holes in round two, just like he did in round one, and fired his second 3-under par 67 in a row. to go to 6 cents.
“Although I played well yesterday, I played really well today,” said Thomas, who is aiming for his first victory since the 2021 Players Championship. “I feel like I’m playing well. We’re halfway there, so it’s still a long way from home, but I’m very, very happy with the mindset and the state of mind I’m in.
Four strokes back after a 63 was two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. Overnight leader and two-time Wanamaker winner Rory McIlroy battled through the second round, especially on the greens, and shot 71 to be five back. He was joined at 4 under by Abraham Ancer and Davis Riley.
Zalatoris has been knocking on the winner’s door for quite some time. He lost in the playoffs earlier this year at the Farmers Insurance Open and has four top 10 finishes in his last six major starts, including a second-place finish at the 2021 Masters.
“These are challenging golf courses that allow my ball-striking to really give me the best chance,” Zalatoris said of the main venues. “Obviously those greens aren’t easy, but hitting them on the right levels and being able to have the 15-25 feet where I’m not going up and down the slopes is huge.
“I have a kind of attitude with the majors, especially since the Masters, where I wanted to enjoy the experience as much as possible. Looking back 20 years, I don’t want to regret my attitude or anything like that.
“I just make sure that after really every shot that I hit, I don’t mean life or death, but make sure I’m fully engaged in whatever I do because we don’t. only get four a year.”
And Zalatoris knows the history of the 36 holes of the majors here.
“I have a long 36 holes ahead of me,” he said. “I think if anything, like I said, you’re able to make your way around this golf course, and if you hit as many greens as you can, it’s pretty hard to mess it up.
” You can always. You know if you hit the wrong slopes it still has a bit of the attitude of Augusta where you can hit 18 greens and leave that spot and shoot 80. I think the story for me is this it is, but I will go out and do my job, and hopefully that will be enough in the end.
Pereira quit the game as a teenager for two years but couldn’t stay away. He rode a hot putter and made just one bogey in his last 24 holes.
“When I came back I just knew I could do it, I knew I could get here, and I just kept the confidence,” he said. “And obviously there have been ups and downs but really happy to be here.
“I hit the ball really well, so if I can just put in a day of good putting, something like that shows up. So really happy with how I ended up playing today.