SILVIS, Ill. -- Jordan Spieth is chasing what looks like a version of himself.
Justin Thomas, who is 12-under-par and has a 1-shot lead in John Deere Classic through 36 holes, is 22 years old. Spieth turns 22 later this month.
Thomas made a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event (the 2009 Wyndham Championship) when he was 16. Spieth did the same at the 2010 Byron Nelson Classic.
Spieth played here on a sponsor's exemption as an amateur in 2012. Thomas did likewise in 2013.
Spieth's first PGA Tour win was the 2013 JDC when he was a Tour rookie. This year's 36-hole leader is a Tour rookie looking for his first victory after five top 10s.
Oh, one of Thomas' best buds is someone he has competed against in junior, college and now professional golf. It's this year's winner of the Masters and U.S. Open, Spieth.
If Thomas wins here, he'll qualify for next week's Open Championship and ride in the jet to Scotland that the JDC charters for its players who are playing in that major. That obviously includes Spieth.
Spieth may have taken alternate transportation to Edinburgh on Saturday had he not made the cut Friday. He said he thought he'd have to shoot no worse than a 4-under-par 67 to keep playing here, and he was right.
But he will be on that charter Sunday night because he did this tourney and CBS a big favor. He fired a 7-under 64 to get within five strokes of the lead and give himself a chance to contend for another win here.
Thomas played for the Crimson Tide's 2013 national-championship team and was the 2012 Haskins Award winner at Alabama. That's the men's golf version of the Heisman Trophy, for national player of the year. Previous winners include Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods.
Thomas looked like he might get his first Tour win at the start of this week. He was tied for the lead at the Greenbrier Classic through eight holes of Sunday's final round. CBS analyst Nick Faldo sounded ready to anoint him the winner-to-be.
But the rookie bogeyed the ninth hole, four-putted for a double-bogey on 10, and had a quadruple-bogey on 16 to tumble all the way to a tie for 54th. If nothing else here, Thomas has already proven he is resilient.
"I'm comfortable," he said about being the solo leader. "I've had my opportunities and I've learned from my mistakes.
"I'm very excited to play this weekend."
Spieth is resilient, too. He had an even-par 71 in Thursday's first round and parred his first four holes Friday, looking nothing like a threat to win here. Then he morphed back into the No. 2-ranked player in the world, carding six birdies and an eagle over his last 14 holes.
"I made a huge step forward today based on how I felt yesterday when I went to bed," Spieth said. "I wasn't feeling good about my game based on Wednesday and yesterday.
The golf universe won't fret if Spieth fails to win here, but it would love to have him competitive at the British next week when he tries to keep his Grand Slam hopes alive at St. Andrews.
"Ultimately this was a big day for me in my preparation for next week," Spieth said.
One shot ahead of Spieth and four behind Thomas is a 39-year-old. Cedar Rapids' Zach Johnson shot a 68 Friday to get to 8-under 134 and a tie for 11th-place.
"I had my chances today," Johnson said. "I just didn't get it in the low, low number. But I can't be too upset. I'm pretty content."
Johnson has a win and two second-places in the past three years here. Spieth has current world dominance. Thomas could hear some heavy footsteps this weekend.
This article was written by Mike Hlas from The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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