Johnson holds halfway lead at Tour Championship, McIlroy five back

By Sports Desk September 05, 2020

Dustin Johnson moved a stroke clear at the halfway stage of the Tour Championship, where defending champion Rory McIlroy lost ground.

FedEx Cup leader and world number one Johnson carded an even-par 70 to claim the outright lead at 13 under through 36 holes in Atlanta on Saturday.

Johnson was tied for the lead alongside world number two and BMW Championship winner Jon Rahm heading into the second round at East Lake.

But Northern Trust champion Johnson stood alone atop the leaderboard in the FedEx Cup play-off finale following four birdies and four bogies on a mixed day as Rahm could only shoot a 74.

Johnson – a runner-up in two of his last three starts – went 13 holes without hitting from the fairway, but the American star still managed to earn a slim lead, ahead of South Korea's Im Sung-jae.

Im, who is looking to become the second youngest winner of the FedEx Cup, birdied three of his last four holes for a six-under-par 64.

Last year's Tour Championship runner-up and 2017 winner Xander Schauffele is two shots adrift after reeling off three consecutive birdies late in the round.

Justin Thomas (71) – the 2017 FedEx Cup champion – is a stroke further back, while Collin Morikawa (65), Tyrrell Hatton (66) and Rahm are nine under heading into the third round.

After producing the equal best round of the opening day, four-time major champion McIlroy was unable to replicate his exploits following a one-over-par 71.

FedEx Cup and Tour Championship titleholder McIlroy, who recently became a father, struggled as the former world number one bogeyed three holes, including the last.

McIlroy's woes were highlighted by a shot that found water, when he tried to reach the 18th green from the thick rough but the ball went into the bottom of the lake.

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    Brandon Hagy carded an eight-under 64 to take a one-stroke lead after the first round of The American Express on Thursday.

    Hagy made 10 birdies and two bogeys during his first round on the PGA West Nicklaus Tournament Course in California.

    The American sits a shot clear of Byeong Hun An, who fired a 65 on the same course.

    Hagy is in the lead through 18 holes for the second time in his PGA Tour career and first since the 2017 Canadian Open.

    Kim Si-woo produced the best round of players who started on the PGA West Stadium Course, his 66 – which featured an eagle at the fifth hole – seeing him sit tie for third.

    Martin Laird and Max Homa are alongside Kim, two shots adrift of Hagy.

    A group of nine players opened with 67s, including Charl Schwartzel and Alex Noren.

    Defending champion Andrew Landry, meanwhile, carded a two-under 70 on the Stadium Course to be back in a tie for 61st.

  • McIlroy hits the front as under-fire Thomas toils after Abu Dhabi fog delay McIlroy hits the front as under-fire Thomas toils after Abu Dhabi fog delay

    Rory McIlroy put his lowest-scoring round at the Abu Dhabi Championship down to precision putting as the four-time major winner shot a first-round 64.

    The Northern Irishman, paired with the under-fire Justin Thomas, had to be patient as play was delayed amid fog but he made up for lost time in eye-catching fashion.

    McIlroy closed day one on eight under, putting the 31-year-old a shot clear of Ryder Cup team-mate Tyrrell Hatton, with Fabrizio Zanotti a stroke further back.

    The delay meant not everyone managed to complete 18 holes, but McIlroy was pleased to be sitting pretty in the clubhouse. 

    "A lot of it was very good. I felt like I drove the ball well for the most part. Distance control was really good," McIlroy said of a display which saw him sink four birdies apiece on the front and back nine.

    "I think I started off really well and hit a lot of nice iron shots, but honestly it was probably the best I've putted these greens in Abu Dhabi probably in my whole career.

    "I've shot some really good scores here but I held some really good ones today.

    "And I've always struggled to read them here, but I sort of got my eye in early and kept it going."

    After becoming embroiled in recent controversy for his use of a homophobic slur, McIlroy's playing partner Thomas found himself well off the pace on one over.

    The American was dropped by sponsor Ralph Lauren following the incident, in which the world number three was heard making an offensive comment by a television microphone when playing at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii earlier this month.

    Thomas subsequently apologised for his "inexcusable" use of the slur.

    Reigning champion Lee Westwood carded a 69, putting him in a big group on three under, with English compatriot Justin Rose for company, though the Olympic champion managed only 11 holes.

  • Thomas addresses ending of Ralph Lauren partnership: 'Embarrassing' use of slur is 'not me' Thomas addresses ending of Ralph Lauren partnership: 'Embarrassing' use of slur is 'not me'

    Justin Thomas insists his "embarrassing" and "humiliating" use of a homophobic slur is "not me" and reflected on Ralph Lauren's decision to stop working with him as a result of the incident.

    World number three Thomas was heard making the offensive comment by a television microphone when playing at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii earlier this month.

    Afterwards, Thomas apologised for his "inexcusable" use of the slur and he again addressed the issue when previewing the Abu Dhabi Championship on the European Tour this weekend. 

    "It's humiliating. It's embarrassing. It's not me. It's not a word that I use, but for some reason, it was in there," Thomas said. 

    "And that's what I'm trying to figure out as to why it was in there, and just like I said, it's going to be a part of this process and training program or whatever I need to do, not only to prove to myself but prove to my sponsors and prove to those people that don't know who I am that that is indeed not the person I am."

    Thomas will be playing without shirt branding in Abu Dhabi after Ralph Lauren opted to end its partnership with the 27-year-old.

    Asked about the company's decision, Thomas replied: "I think disappointed is the wrong word. 

    "Obviously I was upset. But at the end of the day, they have that right. They had to make the decision that they had to make. I spoke with them along with all my sponsors. 

    "Although I apologised, it's like it was then; it's an opportunity for me to grow and I felt like it was something we could have done together and gone through that process. 

    "They just felt like they needed to move on. That's exactly what I'm doing, as well. It was a great run that we had and a great partnership, but you know, things will work out on the best."

    Thomas confirmed conversations have been held with his other sponsors, adding: "I've had great communication with all of them. 

    "It was obviously not calls or e-mails I was hoping or planning to make but I needed to because I have some great long-lasting partnerships with all my sponsors. They know that's not the person that I am.

    "They know that's not how I act and although they are far from brushing it to the side just like I am, they understand that this is an opportunity for me to educate myself, grow, become a better person, and just like they hope, I know that I'll become a better man and a better person because of it, and they are going to kind of help me along that process."

    Thomas earned the backing of Rory McIlroy, who is confident his on-course rival will learn from his error in judgement.

    "I think he's already responded really, really well," the four-time major winner said. 

    "I think he realised he made a big mistake as soon as it was brought to him and he completely owned up to it. He said he messed up; he's going to try to be better. 

    "And you know, Justin is true to his word. He will be. If anything, it will probably just make him a better person than he already is, which is hard because he's already a great guy."

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