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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - American Justin Thomas came close to joining golf's exclusive 59 club after a spectacular birdie blitz in Malaysia on Friday but instead had to make do with the halfway lead at the PGA Tour's CIMB Classic.
The 22-year-old from Kentucky, in his second year on Tour after a solid rookie season, looked set to achieve golf's magical mark when he reached 11-under after 15 holes of his second round at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
But he could only par the remaining three, including the generous par-five last, to miss out on becoming the seventh player to shoot a 59 on the PGA Tour and first since American Jim Furyk two years ago at the BMW Championship.
"It was obviously a great day. It was one of those days when you kind of get unconscious and get rolling out there. They don’t happen too often," the world number 64 told reporters.
"I would say after I birdied 14, 15, I knew I just needed to get two of my last three. They’re all pretty easy holes. They’re all wedge holes.
"So it was obviously unfortunate not to get that number, but I’m sure I’ll have many more chances in my career."
Still Thomas, who fired nine birdies and an eagle, will take a one shot lead into the weekend after posting a tournament-record 15-under 129 tally at the $7 million co-sanctioned Asian Tour event, the third of the new PGA Tour season.
The in-form American is chasing his first PGA Tour win. He achieved his best finish of tied third two weeks ago at the season-opening Frys.com championships.
"Obviously, it’s a great position to be in, but there’s a lot of golf left. I just need to keep firing," he said.
American Brendan Steele led the chasing pack after a bogey free nine-under 63 left him at 14-under and in sight of only his second PGA Tour title and first in more than four years.
Overnight leader Scott Piercy fell down the field into a share of third after a modest 69, with two bogeys halting his progress, left him at 13-under.
"I think the heat got to me a little bit today and I made some mistakes," the American said.
The 13-under mark was matched by Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, who followed up his opening 65 with a 66 on Friday, to sit level with American Spencer Levin (64).
The event, in its sixth year, has always provided a bounty of birdies for the field and the 2015 edition has proved no different with only 10 of the 78 players over par after the second round.
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Amlan Chakraborty