MEMPHIS — Brendon Todd's putter is more than making up for any lack of power off the tee at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Todd shot a 5-under-par 65 Friday at TPC Southwind to carry a two-stroke lead into the weekend at this World Golf Championship.
"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," said Todd, 35, a three-time winner on the PGA Tour who was an All-American during his time at the University of Georgia. "I'm really excited about how I played and looking forward to the opportunity this weekend."
Todd trailed reigning tournament champion Brooks Koepka by two strokes after Thursday's opening round. He quickly erased that deficit and took the lead to himself with a bogey-free, five-birdie round that had him at 11-under 129 after 36 holes.
Rickie Fowler closed with birdies on his final two holes for a 67 and was in second, two strokes ahead of Koepka (71), Chez Reavie (67) and South Korea's Byeong Hun An (65).
"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, but said he wasn't worried with 36 holes to go.
"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."
Spain's Jon Rahm shot a 74 and was tied for 62nd in his first event at No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Justin Thomas, who could go back to No. 1 in the world with a win, was seven strokes back and tied for 12th after a 70. Rory McIlroy's bid to return to the top spot may have to wait until the PGA Championship next week in San Francisco. He shot a 66 but was 10 strokes back and tied for 33rd.
The second round started early Friday morning to avoid expected thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Todd won back-to-back tournaments last November for his first win on tour since winning the Byron Nelson tournament in 2014. Since the return to play in June, Todd has missed two cuts, with his best finish a tie for 11th at the Travelers Championship.
Todd made only five of 39 cuts combined from 2016-18. He got his PGA Tour card back by finishing seventh in points in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals in 2019.
On Friday, 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 five 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 nailed a 13-footer on the par-3 island green of No. 11 to go 9 under just as Koepka became the first to reach double digits under par.
Koepka then made a double bogey on No. 2 when he three-putted after missing a par putt from three feet. His putter cost him a birdie chance on the par-5 No. 3.
That put Todd atop the leaderboard at 9 under, and his putter helped him make birdie on consecutive holes, including the big putt on No. 14. He made a 12-footer on No. 15 to go 11 under and grab a four-stroke lead until Fowler's birdie-birdie finish.
Fowler might have 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 shot 175 yards on No. 17 to three feet from the cup for a 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."