August 3, 2018 / 6:42 PM / in 2 months

Fleetwood, Thomas and Poulter set second-round pace

(Reuters) - Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Thomas plundered Firestone Country Club to join Ian Poulter in the second-round lead at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio on Friday as Tiger Woods lurked five shots behind.

Aug 3, 2018; Akron, OH, USA; PGA golfer Tommy Fleetwood tees off on the 17th hole during the second round of the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Englishman Fleetwood carded seven birdies to match his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, a seven-under-par 63, while American Thomas drove the ball superbly for a 64 that included seven birdies in a 10-hole stretch.

First round leader Poulter managed a solid 67 to match Fleetwood and Thomas at 11-under 129, two strokes ahead of Australian Jason Day and American Kyle Stanley.

Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy battled inconsistent wedge play, his frustration eased by a holed bunker shot at the 17th, which helped him join South Korean Kim Si-woo three back.

Woods, an eight-times winner at Firestone, electrified the gallery with three early birdies but in the end managed only a middling 68 on a course that was there for the taking, with soft greens allowing players to fire aggressively at the pins.

Golf - The 147th Open Championship - Carnoustie, Britain - July 20, 2018 Justin Thomas of the U.S. in action during the second round REUTERS/Andrew Yates

Fleetwood, who contended at both the U.S. and British Opens this summer, has emerged as a player of the highest calibre, even without a breakthrough win in the United States.

“It’s great we keep getting in position,” he told Golf Channel.

“We’re obviously doing a lot of things right. Winning is hard. Hopefully eventually it will happen but it’s great to put myself back in position again.”

World number three Thomas was pleased his score reflected the quality of his game as he warms up to defend his PGA Championship title next week.

“I know I’ve been close for a while,” he said.

“I just haven’t really had the results or the score to (reflect) it.

Aug 3, 2018; Akron, OH, USA; PGA golfer Ian Poulter tees off on the 15th hole during the second round of the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m just trying to stay patient, continue to work on the things that we’re working on and glad that’s it’s showed the last two days.”

Poulter was also a happy man.

“I think it was pretty good,” said the Englishman.

“It’s always tough to follow a near perfect round of golf. Today I didn’t drive it quite as well, didn’t putt quite as good as I wanted to.

“Playing golf the way I’ve been playing is enjoyable. Two years ago golf wasn’t fun.

“I’d like to get back in the winners’ circle and if it comes this year great.”

Players Championship winner Webb Simpson holed a wedge from 111 yards for eagle at the par-five 16th and joined Woods on six-under in the World Golf Championships event.

Out-of-form defending champion Hideki Matsuyama battled to a 72 and fell 10 shots off the pace.

Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Hugh Lawson / Ian Ransom

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