07/11/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/11/2020 19:05
DUBLIN, Ohio - Justin Thomas knew enough not to get worried when Collin Morikawa started making birdies on the front nine at Muirfield Village on Saturday afternoon.
Sure, he had started the day trailing by three strokes. But it was only the third round of the Workday Charity Open and Thomas certainly didn't need to press.
He had plenty of time close the gap, and that's exactly what the world No. 2 did on this blustery afternoon, capitalizing on Morikawa's errors at the turn and seizing the lead with a second-straight 66 that gave him a two-stroke advantage.
'I knew that I was playing well, so I just needed to keep doing what I was doing to try to move up one by one,' Thomas said. 'I couldn't get to 14 unless I got to 12 first and I couldn't get to 15 unless I got to 13. Just kind of keep making my way up one step at a time, or one birdie at a time.'
Thomas will once again be playing with the 23-year-old Morikawa, who trails by three, on Sunday in the final pairing. Viktor Hovland, who is 22, worked his way into that group, as well, when he matched Thomas' 66 to get to 14 under and seize sole possession of second.
With Thomas clocking in at 27 years young, the average age of Sunday's final threesome is a tender 24. Only one event in the last 20 years had a lower average age (22.3) among those tied for third or better after 54 holes - and that was last year's 3M Open that included winner Matthew Wolff, who was 20, Morikawa and Bryson DeChambeau (25).
'It'll be fun to hang with those guys tomorrow,' said Thomas who stopped short of calling himself the veteran in the group. 'But at the end of the day I'm worried about myself and trying to win a golf tournament and have a good round.'
As talented as Morikawa and Hovland are - winning in their sixth and 12th starts as pros, respectively - Thomas' resume is enviable. He's won 12 times already, including twice this year, and he could overtake the idle Webb Simpson for No. 1 in the FedExCup with a victory on Sunday.
Prior to this week, though, Thomas' record at Muirfield Village had been a mixed bag of top-10 finishes (2) and missed cuts (3), as well as the outlier, a tie for 37th in his debut. His lack of consistency on a course he feels 'fits my game like this one' was concerning.
'There's obviously some things that I need to figure out about this golf course and things I need to do better,' Thomas had said prior to the start of the tournament. 'Because of that, I'm taking these practice days probably a little bit more seriously and trying to figure out why I haven't done as well those years.'
It's been quite the turnaround. Thomas has played so well this week that he's yet to make a bogey - a first through 54 holes in his career. Two other players have accomplished that feat on TOUR this year, but no one has gone on to win since J.T. Poston at last year's Wyndham Championship.
'I played well,' acknowledged Thomas, who even had a bogey when his shot a historic 59. 'Just kind of executed what we were trying to do. Got the ball in the fairway very well and hit my irons well.
'It just was a difficult day and some serious wind for the last two days, and just felt like we've really been solid, Jimmy (Johnson, his caddie) and I, and made some of those key putts when I needed to.'
The weather is expected to be a factor on Sunday with thunderstorms in the forecast most of the day. As a result, tournament officials opted to move tee times up, starting at 7 a.m. ET off two tees with Thomas, Hovland and Morikawa slated for a 9:01 tipoff.
Hovland, who is the TOUR's first member from Norway, had a difficult start in his first round at Muirfield Village Thursday, playing his first 10 holes in 3 over par. But he closed with six birdies on his last eight holes and has steadily climbed the leaderboard in what is his fifth straight start.