Thomas makes his move
Eagle on No. 14 key in building two-stroke lead
KAPALUA — With five holes to play Saturday, Justin Thomas was part of a three-way tie for the lead in the third round of the SBS Tournament of Champions.
Then the 23-year-old stepped to the 305-yard, par-4 14th hole at the Kapalua Plantation Course and drove the green, smacking his driver 281 yards. Moments later, he sank a 22-foot putt for eagle and a two-stroke advantage that held up going into today’s final round.
“It’s kind of a weird number for us with the wind,” Thomas said. “Just because downwind, I mean, I’m going to be carrying driver over 300. And it’s uphill a good bit, but if I hit a good one, normal flight, it’s going to be flying on the green or on the back part, and over the green is no good on that hole.
“I couldn’t quite get 3-wood there. And I hit a great shot yesterday. I just hit it a little too low to where it didn’t carry enough up the hill to chase on the green.”
Thomas talked the tee shot over with his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, and decided to go for the green.
“Jimmy and I kind of talked about 3-wood or driver,” Thomas said. “He’s like, ‘I think you hit the perfect shot yesterday, just a little higher, because it’s pretty into the grain and uphill short of that green.’ And I was like, ‘It needs to be something hot to run up there.’ And I just nuked it and hit it low and just enough to scoot up the ridge.”
Thomas’ third straight round of 6-under-par 67 left him at 18-under 201.
“It was a good day,” Thomas said. “Same as yesterday, I got off to a good start, and was 3 under through five, and I mean, those are pretty easy opening holes, besides — 1 and 2 can be a little difficult. But I hit it a lot better today than I have the first two days.”
Hideki Matsuyama, who shot 66, was in second place.
Matsuyama has won four of his last five starts worldwide, the last coming in the unofficial Hero World Challenge. The only event Matsuyama did not win in that span was the CIMB Classic in Malaysia — he finished second to Thomas.
“If I’m near Hideki in the tournament, that’s usually probably a pretty good thing on Sunday,” Thomas said. “He’s obviously a tremendous player and he’s on an unbelievable run here the last five events. … He’s a great player, but there’s a lot of other great players out there. I just need to go take care of my job.”
Matsuyama birdied six of his last 10 holes.
“I do have a lot of confidence right now, and confidence going into tomorrow’s round,” he said through interpreter Bob Turner. “There’s still a few weak links that I need to work on. Hopefully that won’t be a bother tomorrow and we’ll play well.”
William McGirt matched Matsuyama for the best round of the day and was tied for third at 14 under with Jimmy Walker and Ryan Moore. Walker, the first-round leader, shot his second consecutive 70 on Saturday, while Moore carded a 71.
Walker had two bogeys Saturday. He recorded five birdies and an eagle in a bogey-free opening round, but has nine birdies and three bogeys since.
“Didn’t putt. Just didn’t make the putts I needed to make,” Walker said. “Hit it really good. Plenty of looks. Nothing went in.”
Moore had four birdies and two bogeys on Saturday, while McGirt had seven birdies and no bogeys.
Thomas said it will take another solid day to earn the winner’s check of $1.22 million.
“In this situation, I’d rather be on a course where you can make a lot of birdies, because that’s what I’m dealt with tomorrow,” he said.
“I was trying to get to 20 (under). I felt like that was very, very doable. I easily could have. I feel like I could be at 22 or 23, just as easy, as well. I just was trying to make birdies. It’s a course where you can just get so hot.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com
SBS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS
At Kapalua Plantation Course
Saturday’s Third Round
Justin Thomas 67-67-67–201 -18
Hideki Matsuyama 69-68-66–203 -16
William McGirt 70-69-66–205 -14
Jimmy Walker 65-70-70–205 -14
Ryan Moore 67-67-71–205 -14
Brendan Steele 72-67-67–206 -13
Patrick Reed 70-65-72–207 -12
Russell Knox 71-69-68–208 -11
Dustin Johnson 69-70-69–208 -11
Daniel Berger 68-70-70–208 -11
Tony Finau 70-68-70–208 -11
Jason Dufner 68-68-72–208 -11
Pat Perez 69-71-69–209 -10
Brandt Snedeker 70-70-69–209 -10
Jason Day 70-69-70–209 -10
Fabian Gomez 70-68-71–209 -10
Cody Gribble 69-72-69–210 -9
Jim Herman 67-71-72–210 -9
Jordan Spieth 72-69-70–211 -8
James Hahn 74-70-68–212 -7
Vaughn Taylor 72-71-69–212 -7
Charley Hoffman 71-70-71–212 -7
Rod Pampling 69-71-72–212 -7
Greg Chalmers 71-72-70–213 -6
Brian Stuard 72-71-70–213 -6
Si Woo Kim 75-70-69–214 -5
Bubba Watson 72-72-71–215 -4
Aaron Baddeley 70-73-74–217 -2
Jhonattan Vegas 72-76-70–218 -1
Mackenzie Hughes 73-72-73–218 -1
Branden Grace 73-74-71–218 -1
Billy Hurley III 74-73-72–219 E
Today’s tee times
7:35 a.m.–Branden Grace, Billy Hurley III.
7:45 a.m.–Jhonattan Vegas, Mackenzie Hughes.
7:55 a.m.–Bubba Watson, Aaron Baddeley.
8:05 a.m.–Brian Stuard, Si Woo Kim.
8:15 a.m.–Rod Pampling, Greg Chalmers.
8:25 a.m.–Vaughn Taylor, Charley Hoffman.
8:35 a.m.–Jordan Spieth, James Hahn.
8:45 a.m.–Cody Gribble, Jim Herman.
8:55 a.m.–Jason Day, Fabian Gomez.
9:05 a.m.–Pat Perez, Brandt Snedeker.
9:15 a.m.–Tony Finau, Jason Dufner.
9:25 a.m.–Dustin Johnson, Daniel Berger.
9:35 a.m.–Patrick Reed, Russell Knox.
9:45 a.m.–Ryan Moore, Brendan Steele.
9:55 a.m.–William McGirt, Jimmy Walker.
10:05 a.m.–Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama.