Each had their chance to pull away.
Each were bitten by East Lake Golf Club.
Webb Simpson sat at 9 under par until a double-bogey on No. 13.
Paul Casey was set to separate himself until back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 12 and 13 brought him back to the pack.
Justin Thomas missed a number of putts, but posted an eagle on No. 18 to make a big jump.
Simpson, Casey and Thomas share the lead at 7 under par after Round 2 of the Tour Championship on Friday. Welcome to a crowded leaderboard. The three are just one stroke ahead of a group of four golfers tied for second that consists of Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Gary Woodland and Jon Rahm. Three golfers are tied for eighth at 5 under par, and four more are tied for 11th at 4 under par. That’s 14 golfers, nearly half the field, within three shots headed into the weekend.
“I had it going there for a while pretty nicely, but this golf course is tough,” said Simpson, who posted five birdies before the big blemish on his scorecard. “If you're not in the fairway, it’s tough to hit it on the green, and I missed a few fairways on the back nine, and it cost me. I was sitting there struggling the last few holes trying to make pars when the front nine seemed like it was easy.”
Jordan Spieth, the FedEx Cup points leader, struggled with an even round and remained 3 under par. With a position of tied for 15th, he has opened the door for number of players to win the FedEx Cup and its $10 million prize in the PGA Tour playoff finale.
Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion, made his first trip back to the Tour Championship after a run of four consecutive tournaments from 2011-14. His last appearance coincided with the last of his four PGA Tour victories. Simpson was in the final pairing Friday after opening with a 4-under-par 66.
“I mean sitting at home last year watching the guys play after the third event … anytime you don’t advance you feel the sting of it,” Simpson said. “But the important thing that I did was I didn’t second-guess anything I was doing. I just continued to re-evaluate my plan and make sure I was doing the right stuff. But yeah, I think moving forward, no matter if I make it the next 10 years or don't make it again, I'm going to realize that being here is special, and I'm thankful for that.”
Casey has had some success at the Tour Championship. He loves East Lake and is making his fourth appearance at the event. He finished fourth twice and fifth once. In 2010, his fourth-place finish enabled Tour Championship winner Jim Furyk to win the FedEx Cup. Had Casey finished second, the grand prize would have belonged to him.
“I think right now I would rather take the Tour Championship victory, I really would,” Casey said. “… I love the FedEx Cup, it’s great. We’re very fortunate to be able to play for what we play for, don’t get me wrong, but I would love to have that title. In fact, I would take the title and not the money Sunday.”
Sssshhh, don’t tell the PGA Tour.
Thomas is making his second trip to the Tour Championship in a season were he likely will win Player of the Year honors with five victories, including a major in the PGA Championship. He tied for sixth last year. Thomas entered this Tour Championship as one of five players who control their own fate. A victory and the playoff title belongs to him, thus adding to the collection of trophies and oversized checks he has accumulated this year.
“It's nice to have everything in my own hands and know that if I just take care of what I need to do, then it’s over with,” said Thomas, who entered second in the FedEx Cup point standings.
First-round leader Kyle Stanley shot 3 over par and joins the group of three tied for 15th at 3 under par with Dustin Johnson and Spieth, two of the favored five who control their fate. The other, Rahm, is one stroke behind the leaders.
There is still much golf to be played. Rest assured, East Lake will have a lot to say about who will be holding trophies when it’s over.