LOS ANGELES: Justin Thomas is doing his best to avoid a repeat of his lackluster start to 2016, shooting a six-under 67 on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) to seize sole possession of the lead at the USPGA Tournament of Champions.
Thomas was at 18-under 201 after firing his third straight 67 heading into Sunday’s final round at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.
The 23-year-old American had a two-shot lead over the hottest player in the game, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (66), who is seeking his fifth win in his last six tournaments worldwide.
Asked what it is going to take to win on Sunday, Thomas said, “I am not sure. That is the thing, you don’t know what everyone else is going to do.
“So saying that, I just need to go out and keep doing what I am doing.”
Second round co-leader Ryan Moore was tied for third at 14-under with fellow Americans Jimmy Walker and William McGirt.
World number one Jason Day of Australia has his work cut out for him as the Australian was tied for 13th at 10-under following a three-under 70.
After getting off to a flat start last season, when he missed the cut at the Sony Open in Waialae, Hawaii, and the Career Builder Challenge in La Quinta, California, Thomas was mindful of being ready for 2017.
“I am just looking for a chance to win,” he said. “That is why we enter each tournament, or at least why I do. It is nice to be able to put yourself in an opportunity in the first event of the year.”
A rising star on the Tour, he posted six other top-10 finishes last season. He’s got two USPGA titles to his credit, successfully defending his CIMB Classic title in Malaysia in October as the tour’s 2016-17 season was getting underway.
In Saturday’s third round, Thomas fashioned a string of three straight birdies beginning at the par-four third hole. He added an eagle on the par-four 14th and punctuated the round with a birdie at 18.
His only stumble came when he made bogey at the seventh.
“I am not disappointed but I left a lot our there,” Thomas said. “That is always a good thing because I can just go work on it and improve.”
Matsuyama, who briefly held the lead in the second round, birdied all four par-fives on Saturday. His eight total birdies included five in a seven-hole stretch starting at the par-five ninth.
“Hideki is the hottest golfer in the world right now. I am glad he had some time off or I wouldn’t like my chances going into tomorrow. But he is playing great so it is going to be a great test,” said Thomas.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, still fine tuning his game to start the year, fired a three-under 70 in a round that included a double bogey and an eagle on the front nine.
Spieth said he has seen big improvements in Thomas’ game.
“Off the tee he has gotten more consistent and his course management has gotten significantly better,” he said.
“As a young player on tour you have to manage the golf course better than you had to before. He has also learned how to close tournaments out and win.”
Spieth was alone in 19th at 211, 10 strokes back of Thomas.