ATLANTA – The final hole on East Lake brought two strange sights at the Tour Championship on Saturday.
First, Rory McIlroy hit a shot that fell into the water from the thick rough directly in front of him, a range laser camera estimated at 85 feet [8 inches], regardless of how far it had sunk to the ground.
Then Dustin Johnson reached his driveway and could see the entire golf ball in the grass. It was in the first cut, but a relief when you consider that he hasn't hit a fairway in the past three hours.
It was a rare green light for Johnson, and he hit 5-irons at 30 feet for a two-putt birdie and an even par 70, allowing him to get away with one shot ahead of Sungjae Im for halfway through the chase the FedEx Cup and the $ 15 million prize.
Johnson went right into range to find out why he was only hitting two fairways when he was content to have so few chances and still stay ahead.
"Two different golf courses if you're playing from the fairway or the rough," said Johnson. "If you play from the fairway you can attack the course, you can get a good result. Playing from there is not that much fun. But I managed my game pretty well and I was happy with the result that I got shot, especially the way I drove the ball. "
McIlroy also shrugged as he tried to overdo with a gnarled lie, not so much to get across the water, but with a bunker on the right. It cost him a bogey for a 71, which left him five even though he could see a bigger picture.
"It doesn't look like I'm losing ground today anyway, which is some kind of consolation," he said.
That could have been the best attitude after a second round of birdies and mistakes. The next 36 holes are all about the opportunity for the nine players, who are separated by just five strokes.
From the way Johnson played – two runners-up and an 11-shot win in his last three starts – there was a chance he could have taken his 2-shot lead early in the tournament and run away with it.
Johnson, with rounds 67-70 and starting at 10 under as number 1 in the FedEx Cup, was 13 under.
Im, the rising star from South Korea whose game turned lukewarm after the three-month shutdown, has birded three of his last four holes for a 64 and will be in the final group with Johnson.
Xander Schauffele, who won the Tour Championship as a rookie in 2017, ran out late in his round for a 65 against three birdies and was two strokes behind. Another big step came from PGA Champion Collin Morikawa, whose 66 shot him four shots off the lead.
Johnson hit the fairway on the first and fifth holes – both pars. He still managed a birdie at number 8 when he drove into a bunker, surfaced just before the green, and jumped from 40 feet onto both par 5 and number 3 where he made a 40 foot boat.
Dustin Johnson watches his putt on the 18th green Saturday during round two of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. Sam Greenwood / Getty Images
"I feel like I've got my two bad laps out of the way and come with two good ones where the other guys got some good results," said Johnson. "My game feels good. I still have a lot of confidence in everything I do. I just have to hit it on the fairway. It's pretty easy."
He wasn't alone in his struggles.
Justin Thomas pulled in one shot until he couldn't convert the birdie chances, then drove so far left on the 18th that he had to step sideways, resulting in a bogey and a 71.
Jon Rahm kept pace with Johnson until he found the water off the tee on par 15 and built a double bogey, followed by a wild ride that led to the bogey on the 16th. He shot a 74, nine shots worse than his opening round. That left him four shots at 9 under.
That was what drove Thomas so crazy, who felt he hit it well enough from tee to green. He's the last one in the 30 man field to put, which wouldn't surprise him.
"I should never have outperformed how well I played today," he said. "I just did absolutely nothing."
That was evident when his 6-foot par putt whirled in and out of the cup and Thomas gave him a sarcastic thumbs up.
Rahm was as frustrated as ever, mostly because he couldn't capitalize on the fairway and had the feeling that it would be another round of East Lake that would cost him. Now he's just four strokes behind, with 36 holes left and $ 15 million to be won.
"The next thing I got to do a birdie from the fifth hole was the bunker shot on the 18th," he said of his third shot behind the green. "It's the best look I've had all day. It's only one of those days. But as you said, the mentality right now is that we played two days of the tournament. I'm four years old and I'm going back into the tournament Weekend. Anything can happen. "