The Associated PressKAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) — Justin Thomas, who as a skinny kid in Kentucky had to hit driver to reach a par 3 in junior golf, stood on the 14th tee at Kapalua trying to decide if 3-wood would be enough to drive the green on a par that was playing 287 yards up the hill.
His caddie thought the driver was the club, and Thomas took it from there.
“It needs to be something hot to run up there,” he said. “And I just nuked it, and hit it low and just enough to scoot up the ridge.”
The ball bounded onto the green to 20 feet, and Thomas made that for eagle.
It was enough for him to take control Saturday at the SBS Tournament of Champions, ultimately leading to a third straight round of 6-under 67 and a two-shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama, who had a 66.
Perhaps it’s only fitting that they will be in the final group.
Thomas, who was at 18-under 201, is the only player to beat Matsu-yama over the last three months.
The 24-year-old from Japan has won four of his last tournaments dating to Oct. 16 at the Japan Open, a streak that includes seven-shot victories in Japan and at a World Golf Championships event in Shanghai.
Thomas beat him by three at the CIMB Classic at Malaysia, and Matsuyama wasn’t much of a threat that final round.
He is now.
“If I’m near Hideki in the tournament, that’s usually 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. I actually had no idea I was the only one to beat him in the last five events, which is absurd, the fact he’s won four of his last five ... But there’s a lot of great players out there. I just need to go take care of my job.”
There might not be as many players to beat in this winners-only field after Thomas gave himself a little separation. Only five players were within five shots of the lead going into the final round, with Dustin Johnson seven shots back and world No. 1 Jason Day eight shots behind.
Matsuyama in final group
Matsuyama made three birdies over his last five holes, starting with a chip-in on the 14th hole, to get into the final group as he goes for his fourth straight victory
“Justin doesn’t have any weaknesses at all in his game,” Matsuyama said. “He hits it long, has a marvelous short game, putts well, hits the ball well. We’ve got to go low tomorrow to be able to catch him.”
Memorial winner William McGirt, one of 11 players playing the Plantation course at Kapalua for the first time, played bogey-free for a 66 and was four shots behind, along with Ryan Moore (71) and Jimmy Walker (70).Speech