AUGUSTA, Ga. — Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson do not have a lot in common. They have different games, live different lives and exist with much different personas. However, they do share one commonality: From here on out, for the rest of each of their careers, both will almost exclusively be defined by how many major championships they win.
Johnson (-9) and Thomas (-9) will either be in the lead or near the top of the leaderboard entering the third round of the 2020 Masters. Both are off to the best starts of their careers at Augusta National as they wrapped up their first rounds and completed their second sets of 18 holes on Friday.
Entering this year’s event, Johnson’s best start was a 7-under performance in 2015 when he finished T6. Thomas’ was 3 under in 2018 when he finished T17. Neither has ever been in this good of a position after 36 holes at the Masters.
It took a bit of a ride on Friday for them to get there. Both played nearly a round and a half as their first rounds got suspended on Thursday evening, and they took blows from a course they pummeled yesterday.
After Thomas finished up a 66 from Round 1, he started with two bogeys in his first four holes in Round 2 (including a terrible one at the par-5 13th). However, he birdied Nos. 15-18 on his opening nine and played the first nine in 1 under to get in the clubhouse at 66-69.
“It wasn’t an ideal start after a pretty good finish this morning,” said Thomas. “… It was an odd start to be 2 over after four. Kind of botched 13 pretty bad, but hung in there and understood as soft as the course is, I can make a lot of birdies and get it back. It’s definitely not as low as I feel like I could or should be, but we’re in good position.”
Most of Johnson’s damage came at the end of Round 1 as he made four birdies early in the morning after restarting on No. 10. He touched it off with a long one at the 18th to shoot 65. Then he ran his score all the way to 10 under in Round 2 before dropping two shots on Nos. 14 and 15. D.J. closed with 11 pars in a row before making birdie at the last for 65-70.
Their vibes are incongruent with one another, which is one of many things that makes them fascinating. In a vacuum, Johnson could have been playing a fall practice round and a half at Augusta National on Friday. His only tell was soft, almost silent muttering to himself about wandering shots. Thomas, on the other hand, gives you every emotion.
They would be tremendous foils for one another if they’re both still galloping on Sunday afternoon.
J.T. and D.J. have both built incredible careers to date, but they are sitting on just one major championship. While Johnson (45 major starts) has more than twice as many rips as Thomas (20), he’s also had several close calls that didn’t fall his way. Thomas has just four top 10s at majors and none at Augusta National. A combined 36 PGA Tour wins between the two of them is incredible, but just two of them are major championships. Whatever their legacies are 50 years from now depends on that second number changing.
Both golfers know that.
“Of course, I would love to win a lot more majors,” said Johnson earlier in the week. “I’d like to get my second one first, but then, you know, add on to that. I just need to keep putting myself into situations, and I’m playing good enough golf. I feel like, if I can put myself in position come Sunday, I like my chances. But we’ve got to get there first.”
There is still a ton of golf left to be played, but Johnson and Thomas will either be the favorites or be among them entering Day 3. While several big names hover near the top of the leaderboard, these two will likely be the highest-ranked (depending what No. 2 Jon Rahm does). They have been the two best tee-to-green players in the world over the last six months, and Augusta National almost always crowns the best players from tee to green.
On a week without patrons at Augusta National, we could use two guys playing off each other to accentuate the mood. J.T. and D.J. could provide that excitement — J.T. bouncing along the fairways, living and dying with every shot and putt while D.J. eats up the hills at Augusta with that gait that looks larger than life, funneling every emotion into one singular reaction at the very end of the tournament.
Thomas and Johnson are two greats, not just currently but possibly of all time, and we might get them dueling for the most bizarre Masters in history.