Dustin Johnson produced a masterclass to equal the 54-hole score at the Masters, putting himself in prime position to win a maiden green jacket.

The world number one was in a class of his own during a flawless seven-under-par 65 at Augusta National, leaving him at 16 under for the tournament – level with Jordan Spieth's score at the same stage in 2015.

Debutants Im Sungjae and Abraham Ancer join Australia's Cameron Smith as the nearest challengers, sitting four strokes adrift, while Dylan Frittelli is five back and Justin Thomas at 10 under.

Johnson has four top-10 finishes in his past four Masters appearances and it will take something special to deny the 36-year-old a second major title after his 2016 U.S. Open triumph.

A glorious front nine began with Johnson playing his opening four holes in four under, with a crunching approach at the par-five second leaving him a tap-in for eagle.

Three more strokes were gained prior to the turn, including draining a 38-foot putt at the fourth, while accuracy and crisp iron shots were hallmarks of Johnson's play on the way home, where he did the business on the par fives, birdieing both.

Johnson has previous for disappointments from promising positions in the majors but there have been few signs the chasing pack can play at the same consistently brilliant level to overhaul his commanding lead.

The 2019 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Im had just one bogey in his round of four under, though, while Ancer also only dropped only one shot and Smith was boosted by a streak of three birdies between the 13th and 15th in a blemish-free round.

It was a case of what might have been for Thomas, who was three under through 11 holes but mixed four bogeys with two birdies from there to come home in disappointing fashion.

Jon Rahm struggled to get going and his even-par round included an ugly double-bogey at the eighth and another dropped shot at the last to leave him on nine under, level with 2018 champion Patrick Reed and Sebastian Munoz.

Rory McIlroy will be ruing a nightmare first-round 75 after following a 66 with a five-under 65 on Saturday.

The Northern Irishman was flying with five birdies and no bogeys through 12 before three-putting for bogey at 13 and regaining the stroke at the 16th.

At eight under McIlroy looks too far back to end the elusive wait to complete golf's grand slam. Brooks Koepka, Tommy Fleetwood and Hideki Matsuyama are on the same score.

The gap is even larger for reigning champion Tiger Woods, who sits 11 strokes off the pace after an even-par 72.

Rory McIlroy believes he has left himself too much to do to end his wait for Masters glory despite an impressive 67 in the third round. 

The four-time major winner, who is chasing the green jacket at Augusta to complete the set, signed for a five-under score to move to eight under overall. 

But as Dustin Johnson pulled clear - 14 under when McIlroy finished, which soon became 15 under - the Northern Irishman acknowledged his hopes may have disappeared with his opening effort of 75. 

"If he just plays his game, he's going to get to at least 16. Eight shots," McIlroy said after his round. 

"I'm being a realist here; I just need to go out there tomorrow and shoot a good one and see where it puts me. I have zero thoughts about winning this golf tournament right now." 

His plan instead? "Just try to play a good round of golf," he said. 

"Just try to do the same thing I've done the last couple of days, go out and try to hit every fairway, try to hit every green, try to make a birdie on every hole if you can. 

"You're just trying to shoot the best possible score. That's the way to win golf tournaments, just keep doing that day after day. That's what I'm going to try to do. 

"As I said, I think I've left myself too far back after the bad first day, but I'll go and give it a good effort tomorrow and see where that leaves me."

McIlroy conceded he had been "tentative" early in the week and expected he would come to regret his poor start to the tournament. 

"I think 11 under for the last two days speaks for itself," he said. "The good golf was in there, I just didn't allow myself to play that way on the first 18 holes. 

"This course can do that. This course can make you a little bit careful and a little bit tentative at times. 

"I've always said I play my best golf when I'm trusting and freer. I've been a lot freer over the last 36 holes. 

"I try to view everything as a learning experience, but I'll look back at that and rue some of the shots that I hit and some of the thought-processes I had and just try to learn from it and be better the next time." 

The iconic Georgia course has repeatedly proven McIlroy's undoing, but he recognises it should not have been such a problem. 

He said: "The Masters and Augusta National have some of the coolest traditions in our game. Of course, you want to be a part of that for the rest of your life if you can. 

"Winning the Masters would be cool, winning the grand slam would be cool, and there's a lot of great things that come along with that. 

"But at the end of the day, you have to try to simplify it as much as you can. 

"It's just a golf tournament, and you're playing against guys you see every week. It shouldn't be that different."

Rory McIlroy conceded playing Augusta National in November is taking some getting used to, even though he managed a flawless second round at the Masters. 

McIlroy completed his opening round in frustrating fashion early on Friday, finishing on a 75 which included five bogeys. 

However, he hit back in impressive fashion after a swift turnaround, hauling himself back to three under for the tournament thanks to six birdies. 

The Masters typically takes place in April but was pushed back to this week due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Following heavy rainfall on Thursday the conditions have been tough, with McIlroy acknowledging the need to forget about previous experiences at the famous course. 

"Yes, it still is taking a while, even the guys that have been here so many times," said McIlroy. 

"Even Xander [Schauffele], this is only his third Masters, but even the memories and the experiences that he's drawing on over the past two years, you play this course so much by memory.

"This putt is fast, this putt is not so fast, this putt goes more than you think, all that, and you sort of have to throw all that out the window this week because the course is playing completely different. 

"The greens are so much slower, so much softer, and because of that they can use some different pins that we've never seen before, either. It's certainly a little different."

McIlroy believes he has been in good form heading into the tournament, admitting he did not quite understand where his dismal opening round came from.

"I honestly have been playing so good coming in here, and then I go into the first round and I shoot 75, and I'm like, where the hell did that come from?" he added.

"I knew it was in there, it was just a matter of, as I said, just trusting a little more and being committed. It was better this afternoon."

At the time he returned to the clubhouse, McIlroy's 66 was tied for the lowest score of the second round, with Patrick Cantlay, Tommy Fleetwood and 2016 champion Danny Willett.

Dustin Johnson managed to maintain a share of the Masters lead as he recovered from successive bogies, while Rory McIlroy responded to a frustrating opening 75 with a superb second round.

After finishing his first round with 65 early on day two, world number one Johnson was back out swiftly at Augusta National, and struck three birdies in his first four holes to move to nine under.

However, consecutive bogies on the 14th and 15th -– his fifth and sixth – set the 36-year-old back.

Cameron Smith and Masters debutant Abraham Ancer capitalised, with respective efforts of 68 and 67 to nose themselves ahead, while Justin Thomas joined them with a three-under 69.

Thomas made it a three-way share of the lead by following a precise iron onto the ninth green with a clinical putt for a birdie. 

Yet Johnson rallied on his back nine, keeping his composure to maintain par throughout before a four-foot birdie on the 18th ensured a four-way tie for the lead.

While Johnson was flying early on Friday, McIlroy's first round was a dismal one, but the Northern Irishman bit back with a flawless 66 – including five birdies – to put himself in a great position to make the cut at three under. 

WILLETT FINDS HIS RHYTHM

Patrick Cantlay is in tied-second on eight under, ahead of British trio Danny Willett, Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose. Dylan Frittelli followed an opening 65 with 73, though at six-under he is well in contention heading into the weekend.

Willett has made the cut for the first time since winning the Masters, with his 66 his best round at Augusta, while Fleetwood matched the 2016 champion with a 15-foot putt on the 18th.

"Things felt pretty good coming into the week," Willett told Sky Sports. "Nice memories, you get nice vibes. The course is obviously playing very different to what we know it can play like.

"The scoring will continue to get really good as the day goes on. The weather's perfect, the greens are as good as they can be.

"Me, Patrick Reed and Jordan [Spieth] are the only champions under 40. It's still surreal, still an amazing place to come to. An incredibly special place."

NIGHTMARE STARTS FOR WOODS AND DECHAMBEAU

Bryson DeChambeau's bullish build-up seems to have backfired. He labelled Augusta a par 67, yet he found himself two over five holes into his second round.

After birdieing his second, DeChambeau endured a miserable time on the third, losing his ball before chipping beyond the hole and down the slope, taking a further two shots to find the pin.

That moved the U.S. Open champion back to level par, and more frustration followed with successive bogeys, though he pulled a shot back on the sixth.

Looking to build on a solid 72 from day one, Tiger Woods found the hole in four on the par-five second, having been inches away from converting a chip for eagle.

Yet the five-time champion missed a simple putt on the next hole, dropping his first shot of the week from around 15 feet.

Dustin Johnson felt he was "on a good roll" heading into the second round of the Masters on Friday and so it initially proved.

The world number one had been required to turn out early in the morning to finish his first 18 holes and improved from three under through nine to seven under at the finish, seizing a share of the lead with Paul Casey and Dylan Frittelli.

He finished with three birdies across the final four holes of the first round and had time only for a brief pause before heading back out to start again.

"To continue to play is definitely a nice advantage," he said. "Obviously we know how the golf course is playing. We've already played nine holes this morning."

Sure enough, after making par as he teed off once more from the 10th, Johnson rattled off three straight birdies to build a three-stroke lead at 10 under.

Having already beaten his best ever score at Augusta over the opening 18 holes, further improvement still was in Johnson's sights in a low-scoring week.

But then the top-ranked star, aiming to become the first world number one to win the Masters since Tiger Woods in 2002, started to stutter.

A bogey at 14 was followed by a trip into the water on the next hole.

Johnson reached the turn back at eight under and had company once again, Im Sung-jae joining the leader.

Justin Thomas briefly had a slice of first place, too, until he double-bogeyed the first – his 10th – after hitting a tree to fall back.

Frittelli was moving in the wrong direction, one over through nine, but Brooks Koepka sustained the form he found late in the first to move to five under.

Also on the climb in Johnson's group was Rory McIlroy, whose Masters hopes had again looked remote as he completed 18 holes in 75.

McIlroy found birdies at 10, 12, 15 and 17 to move into the red for the first time this week, then letting out a laugh as he nailed his tee shot at the 18th, although he had to settle for making the turn bogey-free at one under.

Dustin Johnson and Dylan Frittelli joined Paul Casey in a share of the lead at the Masters as the first round belatedly concluded on Friday.

Weather delays meant half of the field could not play 18 holes on Thursday, forcing several big names to return early before a swift turnaround.

World number one Johnson could carry some momentum into his second round after birdieing three of the final four holes to match Casey's seven-under 65.

Johnson carded his best round at Augusta, beating his previous low of 67 after resuming at three under through nine.

That still might not have been enough for the co-lead had Frittelli put away his birdie putt at the ninth, his final hole, for first place outright.

Frittelli had missed the cut in his only previous Masters appearance but built on an impressive Thursday - which included an eagle-birdie-birdie-birdie run from the 13th - to hold an 18-hole joint-lead for the first time on the PGA Tour.

Justin Thomas was a stroke back, having not quite maintained the rampant form that took him to five under through 10 overnight.

Also in touch were a pair of veteran former champions in Bernhard Langer and Phil Mickelson, the former on four under with the latter a shot further back.

Even when the 63-year-old Langer appeared to see his round heading off the rails at the seventh, he brilliantly limited the damage to a bogey and followed up with a birdie.

It was the German's first opening round in the 60s at Augusta since 1993, when he won the second of his two titles, and he is on course to become the oldest player to make the cut in Masters history.

Mickelson looked to be finishing his first round on a roll until a bizarre final hole saw a great tee shot followed by a second into the bunker, then landing within four feet before missing a par putt.

Brooks Koepka could end on a high, however, as he followed favourite Bryson DeChambeau in recovering from a slow start to make 70, finishing eagle-birdie-par-birdie.

There was no such change in fortunes for a struggling Rory McIlroy.

Chasing that elusive green jacket and a clean sweep of majors, the Northern Irishman started the day at even par but saw his round quickly fall apart with bogeys at 10, 13 and 14.

Even a birdie at 15 was followed by a miserable tee shot into the water at 16, which forced him to rescue bogey impressively, carding a three-over 75 and in real danger of missing the cut.

Paul Casey will carry a two-stroke lead into Friday at the Masters as Tiger Woods made an impressive start to his title defence at a rain-hit Augusta.

Casey opened with a seven-under 65 in Georgia on Thursday, but the first round was initially delayed and then suspended for almost three hours due to inclement weather.

The Englishman, who was runner-up at the US PGA Championship earlier this year for his 10th top-10 finish at a major, produced a bogey-free round that included an eagle and five birdies.

Casey sat two strokes clear of American duo Webb Simpson and Xander Schauffele, who opened with 67s, when play was suspended for the day due to darkness with 44 players yet to get through 18 holes.

It continued Simpson's fine form, having finished in the top 20 in each of his past six starts on the PGA Tour.

But all eyes were on Woods, who started his title defence with a four-under 68.

Having sensationally won his 15th major at the Masters last year, Woods entered the tournament with just one top-10 finish in 2020 and that came at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.

However, the American – starting on the back nine – made three birdies in four holes from the 13th and picked up a shot at the first during a bogey-free first round.

A five-time Masters winner, Woods' 68 tied his lowest first-round score at the tournament and was his first bogey-free round in a major since the 2009 US PGA Championship.

Woods' round left him in an eight-way tie for fourth, with Hideki Matsuyama, Lee Westwood, Louis Oosthuizen and Patrick Reed alongside him and having completed their rounds.

But Adam Scott (through 10), Justin Thomas (through nine) and Dylan Frittelli (through eight) were all flying and at four under before play was suspended.

Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, made four birdies on the front nine, while Thomas and Frittelli made more mixed starts.

World number one Dustin Johnson (through eight) and Jon Rahm (69) were among a group at three under alongside Rickie Fowler (through 11) and Matthew Wolff (through 10).

U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau recovered from a double bogey at the 13th hole to post a two-under 70 and sit in a tie for 19th, a position he is joined in by Jason Day (70) and Justin Rose (through eight) among others.

Rory McIlroy struggled to get much going, reaching even par halfway through his round, while Brooks Koepka was one over through nine.

Jordan Spieth, the 2015 winner, showed no signs of turning his poor form around, opening with a 74.

Rory McIlroy has no problem heading to Augusta as an apparent outsider, with Bryson DeChambeau seemingly the man to beat as the Northern Irishman attempts to end his wait for Masters glory.

McIlroy is still pursuing a first green jacket that would complete a career Grand Slam, a feat that has only been achieved by five players.

His chances of getting that breakthrough win at this year's unique November Masters are widely considered to be remote, however, as the former world number one has just two top-10 finishes in 12 events since the sport returned in June amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The focus this week is instead on DeChambeau, the favourite after victory at the U.S. Open, but that suits McIlroy.

"I do prefer that. I like it," said the four-time major champion. "I've always liked sort of doing my own thing and trying to stay as low‑key as possible.

"Sometimes the way I've played over the years, that hasn't happened because I've won some tournaments and I've been on some pretty good runs at times.

"But I don't mind this. This is nice. It feels like everything this year, it's more subdued, it's more relaxed. That's the feel for me, anyway.

"Obviously Bryson is going to be feeling a little different because the attention is on him - and deservedly so, coming off the back of a major win and basically disrupting the game of golf over the last few months.

"It's a big story and I'm just as intrigued as everyone else to see how that unfolds."

McIlroy was referring to DeChambeau's change in playing style, with the 27-year-old bulking up to add extra power to his game.

DeChambeau is now comfortably the longest driver on the PGA Tour this season, averaging 344.4 yards per drive, 46.2 yards above the average.

The move has paid dividends with two wins - including a first major success - and seven top-10 finishes since June, which included contending at the US PGA Championship, where he was tied for fourth.

DeChambeau's ability to drive the ball has prompted suggestion he could make a mockery of the iconic Augusta course and alter the future of golf, but McIlroy is not concerned.

"I don't share that concern," said McIlroy, whose game "feels pretty good".

"If you look at Bryson's strokes gained numbers at the U.S. Open [22.37], strokes gained around the green [5.42] and strokes gained putting [4.59] was better than strokes gained off the tee [5.38].

"He did drive it really well, but at the same time you need to back that up with all other aspects of your game.

"If trophies were handed out just for how far you hit it and how much ball speed you have, then I'd be worried. But there's still a lot of different aspects that you need to master in this game."

He added: "I still think this golf course provides enough of a challenge to challenge the best players in the world."

The enforced rescheduling of the 2020 Masters promises to make this year's tournament at Augusta National even more unpredictable than it always is.

Augusta's beauty is not borne just from its colourful, blooming azaleas (albeit they will have a far more Autumnal look this year). No, it is the way year after year it can chew up and spit out the greatest golf has to offer, providing drama at every turn.

With the coronavirus crisis meaning the battle for the green jacket was postponed from its traditional spot of April to November, it is more difficult than ever to try and pick a winner.

But six of Stats Perform News' finest have had a go at doing so ahead of the action getting underway, without fans, on Thursday.

THE TIME HAS COME FOR XANDER – Dan Lewis

After ending as runner-up last year and finishing in the top five in half of his major appearances, the time has come for Xander Schauffele to land his first big title. He was one of six players to have the lead at some point during the final round in 2019 and, with a year's more experience under his belt, he enters this tournament in good stead.

HATTON CAN COMPLETE JOURNEY FROM WANNABE TO SUPERSTAR – Jon Fisher

Winner of the European Tour's flagship event at Wentworth in October, Tyrrell Hatton appears in great shape to do the same on the other side of the pond. He doesn't possess the greatest record at Augusta with a finish of 44th his best in three attempts but an accurate long game and deft touch around the greens make him well-placed to crown a breakthrough 2020. Don't be surprised to see him donning the Green Jacket on Sunday to complete his transformation from petulant wannabe to global superstar.

THIS IS DUSTIN'S YEAR AT AUGUSTA – Chris Myson

World number one Dustin Johnson is yet to win the Masters but has placed in the top 10 in each of his last four Augusta appearances, including his tie for second last year, while he was cruelly denied in 2017 when he fell down a staircase ahead of the event. This could finally be his year, with Johnson in fine form: six straight top-10s included winning the Northern Trust and impressive showings at the other two majors.

DECHAMBEAU PRIMED TO GO BACK-TO-BACK – Peter Hanson

It was always likely to be a case of when not if Bryson DeChambeau became a major winner and now the man dubbed 'The Mad Scientist' has overcome that mental hurdle by dominating at the U.S. Open, there is no reason to suggest he cannot go back-to-back in the majors. A bulkier DeChambeau averaged the longest driving distance off the tee in the 2020 PGA Tour season (322.1 yards) and already leads the statistics in the 2021 campaign (344.4), albeit having only played eight rounds. Augusta is not exactly a course you can just blitz – you need touch around the green, solid putting and the ability to scramble – but it is certainly going to do his chances no harm.

WINGED FOOT WAS A BLIP, RAHM WILL CONTEND AT AUGUSTA – Joe Wright

He might have had a disappointing time at the U.S. Open in September, but there's little reason to discount Rahm from challenging for a maiden major this week. The Spaniard triumphed at the Memorial Tournament and the BMW Championship following the PGA Tour's return, making 2020 the most successful year of his career. While finishing 23rd at Winged Foot was frustrating, Rahm was just a stroke behind winner Patrick Cantlay at the Zozo Championship last month, hitting 11 of 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens in regulation in an impressive final round.

BEING UNDER THE RADAR MIGHT SUIT MCILROY – Timothy Abraham

Rory McIlroy heads into his 12th Masters a little out of sorts. The Northern Irishman has slipped down the rankings, from first to fifth, since golf restarted after lockdown. He finished 21st at the CJ Cup and 17th at the Zozo Championship last month, results that do not exactly bode particularly well form wise. But without any of the usual pre-Masters hype, the pressure will firmly be off the 31-year-old heading to Augusta. McIlroy's last win at a major came with a second PGA title in 2014, but that elusive green jacket might just come out of the blue.

Tiger Woods has been grouped with Shane Lowry and Andy Ogletree for the start of his Masters defence.

Fifteen-time major champion Woods will play with Open champion Lowry and, as is tradition at Augusta, the U.S. Amateur Championship winner Ogletree for the first two rounds.

The threesome will start from the 10th hole in the Thursday morning session and from the first tee on Friday in the second session.

Due to the tournament being rescheduled to November amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Masters is using a two-tee start with 11-minute intervals over the first two days to counter the reduced daylight.

Woods, 44, will be defending his title 19 months after his famous 2019 triumph.

U.S. Open champion and pre-tournament Masters favourite Bryson DeChambeau is another early starter as he plays alongside Jon Rahm and Louis Oosthuizen.

World number one Dustin Johnson will have Rory McIlroy and Patrick Cantlay for company in another impressive grouping when they begin from the first tee in the afternoon.

Other later starters include US PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa, Adam Scott and Tyrrell Hatton, who has been tipped as a contender.

Two of the other top challengers, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas, are joined by Matt Fitzpatrick in another featured group.

The field has been reduced to 92 players after former winner Sergio Garcia, who tested positive for coronavirus, was one of four withdrawals.

Tiger Woods' competition at the Masters this year is too fierce for the defending champion to "flip a switch" and return to contention, according to Nick Faldo.

Woods ended an 11-year wait for his 15th major as he triumphed at Augusta last April.

The 44-year-old subsequently won the ZOZO Championship in October 2019 but has since struggled for form.

Battling back problems, Woods finished in a tie for 37th at this year's US PGA Championship and missed the cut at the 2020 U.S. Open.

Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, does not expect last year's Augusta winner to suddenly rediscover his best form this week.

"Unfortunately, things are just more difficult for Tiger," he said. "He's a little bit older and the back hasn't been good.

"His back rules his everything - golf and life, probably. It rules his practice - that's very important. He cannot stand and hit putts like he used to, he can't put the work in.

"He certainly hasn't put the competitive reps in and he hasn't had the results. Everything is a challenge this week, the weather conditions, a physical walk.

"The bottom line is it's an extremely difficult test for Tiger this week to rekindle that amazing magic from last year.

"Can you flip a switch and say, 'I'll just have the greatest emotional week of possibly my career', showing his children he could still be a champion?

"I don't believe he could flip the switch on that. There's too many good players. There's 10 guys or more who are very long hitters, which is going to be key."

That brought Faldo onto Bryson DeChambeau, the longest driver on the PGA Tour, who was joint-fourth at the US PGA and won the U.S. Open, his first major success.

DeChambeau is among the favourites for the Masters and Faldo said: "He is a completely different animal, literally right now. He's spearheading the whole distance debate.

"But I'm a fan of his. He's done it physically and he's applied the science."

Faldo is less optimistic of Rory McIlroy's chances of finally ending his wait for a career grand slam at Augusta, where there will be no patrons.

The absence of spectators this year amid the coronavirus pandemic has coincided with a tough run of form for McIlroy.

"Rory seems like he's been one of the players who's suffered from a lack of atmosphere," Faldo said. "Rory feeds off that.

"He hasn't played his best, hasn't managed to get completely on a fantastic run."

Patrick Cantlay upstaged Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm to win the Zozo Championship on Sunday.

Cantlay claimed his third PGA Tour victory after shooting a seven-under 65 in the final round at Sherwood Country Club in California.

The American produced a fine performance on Sunday, mixing nine birdies – tying his career-best in a round on the PGA Tour – with two bogeys.

Cantlay made four birdies in a five-hole stretch beginning at the 11th, including producing a wonderful tee shot at the par-three 15th.

"I've been playing really well I feel like the last little stretch, I just haven't put it together four days in a row and this week it was different," he told NBC after his first win of 2020.

"I played really well in Vegas so I tried to take the first week in Vegas [at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open], just try to take as much as I could from those first three days.

"It was nice to get off to a good start today and I played really well."

Thomas, who held the overnight lead, and Rahm finished tied for second a shot behind Cantlay.

Rahm (68) pushed to force a play-off but missed a 19-footer for birdie at the last, while Thomas carded a 69.

Russell Henley (66), Cameron Smith (67), Bubba Watson (68) and Ryan Palmer (69) finished tied for fourth at 19 under.

Rory McIlroy continued his good finish with a six-under 66 in the final round.

The Northern Irishman fired rounds of 67, 67 and 66 to finish the tournament, left to lament his opening 73 as he ended up tied for 17th.

McIlroy finished with 29 birdies during the tournament, which is his career-high on the PGA Tour.

Tiger Woods, the defending champion and 15-time major winner, struggled, a two-over 74 seeing him finish at one under and tied for 72nd.

Justin Thomas retained his lead at the Zozo Championship as Jon Rahm surged into contention on Saturday.

After back-to-back 65s at Sherwood Country Club in California, Thomas carded a five-under 67 in the third round.

The American mixed six birdies with just one bogey to get to 19 under and retain his one-stroke lead.

Thomas, a 13-time winner on the PGA Tour, is set for a final-round battle with Rahm.

Rahm charged into outright second thanks to a nine-under 63.

The Spanish world number two capitalised on a fast start, making a 17-footer for eagle at the par-five second hole.

Rahm went bogey-free in his round, which also included seven birdies, to be in contention for a sixth PGA Tour victory.

Of his previous five wins, two have come in the state of California – at the 2017 Farmers Insurance Open and 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge.

Lanto Griffin continued his consistent showing with a four-under 68 that moved him into 17 under and outright third.

Sebastian Munoz (66), Ryan Palmer (66) and Patrick Cantlay (68) are a shot further back.

A group of six players – Webb Simpson (67), Brian Harman (67), Matt Fitzpatrick (67), Bubba Watson (68), Scottie Scheffler (69) and Dylan Frittelli (70) – are at 15 under.

After bouncing back in the second round, Tiger Woods battled in the third, the 15-time major winner and defending champion shooting a 71 to be back at three under.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, continued to climb the leaderboard, a 67 lifting him into nine under and a tie for 36th.

Justin Thomas fired another seven-under 65 to grab a one-stroke lead at the halfway mark of the Zozo Championship on Friday.

The American produced a bogey-free second round at Sherwood Country Club in California to move into 14 under.

Thomas, the 2017 US PGA Championship winner, made five birdies on the back nine – his first nine holes – before a solid finish.

The world number three, Thomas has enjoyed a fine year, including winning twice. He has multiple wins in every year since 2017.

Back-to-back 65s have given Thomas a one-stroke lead over Dylan Frittelli and Lanto Griffin, while Patrick Cantlay and Scottie Scheffler are a stroke further back after all four also shot 65s.

The round of the day belonged to Richy Werenski, who broke Tiger Woods' course record with a stunning 11-under 61.

Werenski birdied nine of his first 12 holes after starting his round at the 10th and he picked up another shot at the fifth to put him on track to break 60.

However, a bogey at the par-four sixth hurt his chances, although he responded with birdies at seven and nine to get to 11 under and a tie for sixth.

Abraham Ancer (66), Harris English (67), Bubba Watson (63), Tyrrell Hatton (68), Patrick Reed (63), Tony Finau (64) and Kevin Kisner (67) are all alongside Werenski.

Woods, in action for the first time since the U.S. Open, bounced back from his opening-round 76 with a six-under 66.

Despite his improvement, the defending champion and 15-time major winner is well back at two under to be tied for 66th.

It was a similar story for Rory McIlroy, who carded a 67 to get to four under, although the Northern Irishman is 10 strokes behind Thomas.

Overnight leader Sebastian Munoz dropped back into a tie for 14th after carding a two-under 70.

Sebastian Munoz set the early pace at the Zozo Championship after earning a one-stroke lead in the opening round, while defending champion Tiger Woods struggled on his return to the PGA Tour.

Colombian golfer Munoz carded an eight-under-par 64 to top the leaderboard in Thousand Oaks, where the tournament is taking place after being relocated from Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions.

Munoz – eyeing his second Tour title – holed two eagles, eight birdies, a double bogey and two bogeys at Sherwood Country Club.

The 27-year-old recorded his second eagle of the day on the par-five 16th, holing out from 51 yards to mark the third instance in his Tour career with two eagles in a single round.

England's Tyrrell Hatton and American star Justin Thomas – who ended the day eagle-birdie-birdie – are a shot off the pace heading into Friday's second round, while Brian Harman, Lanto Griffin, Kevin Kisner, Harris English and Dylan Frittelli are stroke further back at six under.

World number two Jon Rahm and Jason Day were among the players to post first-round 68s in a field missing top-ranked golfer Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott due to positive coronavirus cases.

After claiming his maiden Tour title via last week's CJ Cup at Shadow Creek, Jason Kokrak shot a three-under-par 69 to be tied for 26th alongside the likes of Xander Schauffele and Matthew Wolff.

Searching for his first victory since 2017, former world number one Jordan Spieth opened with a 70, just like 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed.

Rory McIlroy – a four-time major champion – recorded a one-over-par 73, a shot worse off than Phil Mickelson.

As for Woods, his title defence and bid for a record-breaking 83rd Tour crown started with a forgettable four-over-par 76 that left him 12 strokes behind Munoz.

Making just his eighth start of 2020 and playing for the first time since missing the U.S. Open cut ahead of next month's Masters defence, Woods played three par-five holes over par in the same round for the first time in his illustrious career.

Woods carded a three-over 39 on the back nine, which included a double bogey and two bogeys to go with a solitary birdie.

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