Thomas makes his move

Eagle on No. 14 key in building two-stroke lead

Justin Thomas waves to the gallery on the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 14th green after sinking an eagle putt during the third round of the SBS Tournament of Champions on Saturday.  The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Justin Thomas waves to the gallery on the Kapalua Plantation Course’s 14th green after sinking an eagle putt during the third round of the SBS Tournament of Champions on Saturday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

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.

SBS Leaderboard

SBS Leaderboard

“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.

Hideki Matsuyama tees off on the second hole at the Kapalua Plantation Course on Saturday during the third round of the SBS Tournament of Champions.   The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hideki Matsuyama tees off on the second hole at the Kapalua Plantation Course on Saturday during the third round of the SBS Tournament of Champions. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“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.

Justin Thomas watches his eagle putt on No. 14 roll toward to the hole.   The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Justin Thomas watches his eagle putt on No. 14 roll toward to the hole. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“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.”

Patrick Reed reacts to a missed putt on the final hole.   The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Patrick Reed reacts to a missed putt on the final hole. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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SBS TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS

At Kapalua Plantation Course

Saturday’s Third Round

Brendan Steele hits off the 14th tee.   The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Brendan Steele hits off the 14th tee. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

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

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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.

Jimmy Walker shows his disappointment with a miss on the 10th green.   The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
Ryan Moore tees off on No. 11.  The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

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