MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Brendon Todd’s putter is more than making up for any lack of power off the tee at this World Golf Championship event.
Todd shot a 5-under 65 on Friday and grabbed a two-stroke lead through 36 holes of the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“I have not hit the ball as crisply the first two days and maybe some other tournaments this year, but I’ve probably putted the best of any tournament this year so far,” Todd said. “I’m really excited about how I played and looking forward to the opportunity this weekend.”
Todd trailed defending champion Brooks Koepka after the first round by two strokes. He quickly erased that deficit and took the lead to himself with a bogey-free, five-birdie round for an 11 under total at the WGC event at TPC Southwind.
Rickie Fowler closed with birdies on his final two holes for a 67 and a 9 under total, just behind Todd, thanks to his own putter.
“I feel like I’m heading in the right direction,” Fowler said. “I think that’s been my main goal is go through some changes for the better. Sometimes you’ve got to take that step back to take two steps forward. I feel like we already made the step back. I feel like we’ve made a step forward. I’m looking for that next step.”
Koepka had the lead to himself at 10 under before falling apart on his back nine with a double bogey and two bogeys. He finished with a 71, his first time over par at this course in seven rounds. He was four strokes back, tied with Byeong Hun An (65) and Chez Reavie (67).
But Koepka said he wasn’t worried with 36 holes remaining.
“I just putted bad,” Koepka said. “It wasn’t really anything other than that. Felt stress-free other than just missing some short ones. On the back nine they felt good, they were just missing, and on the front they just weren’t good putts.”
Jon Rahm shot a 74 and now is 4 over in his first event as No. 1 in the world.
Justin Thomas, who could go back to No. 1 in the world with a win, was seven strokes back after a 70. Rory McIlroy’s bid to be No. 1 again may have to wait until the PGA championship next week. He shot a 66, but is 10 strokes back.
Friday’s second round started early in the morning to avoid expected thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Todd won back-to-back tournaments last November for his first wins on tour since capturing the Byron Nelson in 2014. Since the return to play in June, Todd missed two cuts with his best finish a tie for 11th at the Travelers Championship.
On Friday, his putter worked so well that he needed only 24 putts in a round that featured a 50-footer for birdie on the par-3 No. 14. Todd hit a 6-iron to the left side of the green, and he had to roll the ball over a mound breaking left at least 5 feet.
“My caddie really kind of set me up with a good spot there beyond the hole to aim at, and I just focused all on speed,” Todd said. “It happened to just drift right there in the middle of the hole. Bonus birdie there, but that’s what you’ve got to do to win golf tournaments sometimes, and that’s how you shoot low rounds.”
Todd sunk a 13-footer on No. 11, the par-3 island green, to go 9 under just as Koepka became the first to reach double digits under par.
Koepka then missed a 3-foot par putt on No. 2 en route to a double bogey, then his putter cost him a hole later when he missed a birdie chance on the par-5 third.
That put Todd atop the leaderboard at 9 under, and his putter helped him birdie consecutive holes — including the big putt on No. 14. He sunk a 12-footer on No. 15 to go 11 under and a four-stroke lead until Fowler’s birdie-birdie finish.
Fowler might’ve had a piece of the lead if not for hitting his tee shot into the water in front of the island green at No. 11. He rebounded by hitting his approach 175 yards on No. 17 to 3 feet for birdie, and he chipped in from just off the front of the green on No. 18.
“It’s been nice to see some putts go in,” Fowler said. “These greens are about as good as they get. It’s been nice to kind of have them stay on the softer side and make it very playable when you’re driving in the fairway.”