Justin Thomas is relishing the opportunity to challenge for a maiden Players Championship title after pulling himself back in contention with a stunning third round at TPC Sawgrass.
The world No 3 went into the weekend seven strokes off the pace after back-to-back 71s over the first two days, only to jump up the leaderboard with a round-of-the-day 64 on Saturday.
Thomas mixed a stunning eagle and seven birdies with a lone bogey to briefly set the clubhouse target on a low-scoring third day, bolstering his hopes of a first victory of the PGA Tour season.
“I wish all rounds were that easy,” Thomas said. “I hit the ball beautifully, I drove it well, I hit a couple squirrelly shots there at the end of the front nine, but the good part is that I knew why they were happening.
“I knew what the swing flaw was, what the physical mistake was, so I felt like I kind of bounced back from that pretty well. Hit some really good shots on the back nine. I just know that I have to stay patient out here because you can make a lot of birdies and hitting driver well is helping.
“I would say it was easier yesterday than it was today, but I mean, this course is like that. As long as you hit the ball in the fairway, it’s not very long, you can eagle every par-five, you got a short hole and you can make eagle on this weekend at No 12.
“You can have crazy stuff happen out here and you can really, really shoot a low number. I knew that going into the weekend and I know that every time I tee it up out here. I think that’s the reason why maybe I played well, as I just know to stay patient because you never know when a run is coming.”
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Playing alongside Louis Oosthuizen, Thomas made the dream start by holing a 20-footer at the first and getting up and down from a greenside bunker to pick up a shot at the next.
Thomas rolled in a 15-footer at the third and fired his approach at the next to five feet for a fourth straight birdie, before cancelling out a bogey at the fifth by chipping in from off the seventh green.
The former world No 1 followed a tap-in birdie at the tenth by making a two-putt gain at the par-five next, only to miss out on another at the driveable 12th after three-putting for par from off the green.
Thomas went inches away from holing his second shot into the par-five 16, setting up a kick-in eagle to go eight under for the round and leave him requiring a birdie-birdie finish to post the first 62 in Players Championship history, before he closed his round with two pars to set the clubhouse target.
“I told myself I thought 10 under had a pretty good chance to win the tournament going into this weekend, thinking there would be a little bit more wind today,” Thomas added.
“It’s getting harder. It’s getting a little bit firmer. The greens are still pretty soft, but you know they’re going to set it up tougher on Sunday. You know where the pins are going to be and the greens are going to get a little bit more baked out.
“It’s going to be a little windier, and it’s a Sunday of The Players. It’s a huge event and nerves are going to be there. I knew that today was important, but I didn’t exactly have a number in mind.”
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