Hideki Matsuyama of Japan seems to be regaining the form that took him to four PGA Tour victories in a two-year span through 2017.
The 27-year-old Matsuyama rode a hot putter to a bogey-free, 9-under-par 63 and took a one-stroke lead over Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau midway through the BMW Championship, second event of the FedEx Cup playoffs, at Medinah Country Club www.medinahcc.org just outside Chicago.
Only the top 30 in the FedEx Cup point standings from the 70-man BMW field will advance to the Tour Championship next week at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
“I wish I knew why I putted so well today,” Matsuyama, who started the week No. 33 in the standings, said through a translator. “But I was happy that a lot of them went in. As they went in, you start gaining more confidence and as your confidence builds, more putts go in, too.
“But I have seen and received a lot of advice, good advice from some real good putting professionals. I’m starting to get that feeling back that I had three years ago when I putted well and I’m happy about that.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been in contention. Hopefully I can play well. I’ve been struggling for a while this year. Hopefully that can turn around and I’ll have a good weekend.”
Matsuyama, who has won seven times on the PGA Tour but not since the 2017 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, kick-started his round with a 29-foot birdie putt on the first hole and added eight more birdies, capped by putts of 23 and 30 feet on the last two holes en route to a 36-hole score of 12-under-132.
No. 3 Cantlay, from Los Alamitos and UCLA, made the last of his five birdies in a bogey-free 67 with a 15-foot putt on the 17th hole, while Finau (No. 19) collected four birdies on the front nine in his bogey-free 66.
“I played pretty solid and it’s great to go bogey-free around here,” said Cantlay, who claimed his second PGA Tour title earlier this season in the Memorial Tournament. “I made some nice par saves, especially out of the water on No. 15, and made a (nine-foot) putt on the last hole to save par.
“I’m looking forward to the weekend.”
Said Finau, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2016 Puerto Rico Open despite contending numerous times: “I’ve been here before, so I just want to play my game, stay in the moment and have a chance to win the golf tournament.”
Justin Thomas (No. 15 in the points), the 2017 FedEx Cup champion, is two shots back in solo fourth after a 69, while Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State (No. 7) shot 68 and is one more back in a tie for fifth with Adam Hadwin of Canada (No. 51, who had a 68), Lucas Glover (No. 41, 69), Chez Reavie (No. 18, 68), Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia (No. 45, 68), and Corey Conners of Canada (No. 27, 66).
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the 2016 FedEx Cup champ who is No. 3 in the standings, is tied for 11th after a 67, while 2012 FedEx Cup champion Brandt Snedeker (No. 22) finished at 71 and is in a tie for 15th that includes Jon Rahm of Spain (No. 5), who finished at 69.
Jim Furyk, the 49-year-old who claimed the 2010 FedEx Cup and No. 48 in the points, had a 72 and is tied for 21st, while FedEx Cup points leader Brooks Koepka and No. 2 Patrick Reed both totaled 71 and are in a tie for 25th.
Abraham Ancer of Mexico (No. 8) is tied for 31st following a 72, while defending FedEx Cup champion Justin Rose of England (No. 12) shot 73 and is in a tie for 40th that includes 2015 FedEx Cup winner Jordan Spieth (No. 44), who finished at 71, and Matt Kuchar (No. 4), who came in at 70.
Tiger Woods (No. 38), the only two-time FedEx Cup champion (2007 and 2009), posted a second straight 71 and is in a tie for 48th that includes Dustin Johnson (No. 10), who had a 72, while U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland (No. 9) is tied for 58th after a 73, and 2014 FedEx Cup winner Billy Horschel (No. 39) also totaled 73 and is tied for 63rd.
For complete results, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html