Special to The Tuscaloosa News
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A “C-game” effort Saturday in the third round of the PGA Championship was enough to catapult former University of Alabama star Justin Thomas three spots up the leaderboard and within striking distance to capture his first major championship.
Despite struggling with driving accuracy and hitting only six of 14 fairways, Thomas carded four birdies and two bogeys en route to a 2-under 69 round Saturday at Quail Hollow. It left him 5-under for the tournament and three strokes behind tournament leader Kevin Kisner.
“I don’t want to think I stole one, I would like to think I’m mature now and I can manage an under-par round when I don’t have my best stuff,” Thomas said after the round. “I was just worried about trying to get around the course and play better than the leaderboard.”
Thomas began Saturday’s round with a bogey on the par-4 first hole after taking three strokes to finish the hole from a greenside fringe 29 feet away. He sank a 13-foot birdie putt on the par-4 third hole before bogeying the par-4 sixth for the second time this week. A wedge from 106 yards on the short par-4 eighth left Thomas a tap-in birdie putt from 5 feet, and a similar shot resulted in his third birdie of the week on the par-5 10th. He carded his fifth birdie of the round after nearly chipping-in for eagle on the par-5 15th.
“I hit several drives in the rough today, so to make pars on those and the birdie on 15 was great,” Thomas said.
Perhaps most significantly, Thomas finished even-par on Quail Hollow’s “Green Mile” stretch of the par-4 16th, par-3 17th and par-4 18th holes. Saturday’s field average more than 2 strokes over par for the final three holes.
The former Alabama golfer’s performance came as both Kisner and second-round co-leader Hideki Matsuyama finished over par for their third rounds on Saturday.
Before speaking to the media on Saturday, Thomas spent 30 minutes at the range to practice with his driver. While he hoped to bring his “A-game” tomorrow, Thomas used Tiger Woods’s dominance in the 2000s as an example of a player “who won with his B-game and C-game.”
If push comes to shove, Thomas said he believes he has that capability, too.
“What happened today was definitely a confidence boost,” he said. “Although it’s not the same as just playing great.”