DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) – Justin Thomas kept another clean card at Muirfield Village and had a 6-under 66 to turn a three-shot deficit into a two-shot lead Saturday in the Workday Charity Open.
Thomas first had to run off a string of birdies to stay within range of Collin Morikawa. And when Morikawa began to fade with three bogeys in a four-hole stretch around the turn, Thomas converted on the par 5s and played wisely on the short par-4 14th for another birdie to hold off Viktor Hovland.
The final group is a glimpse of golf’s next generation.
Thomas is the proven star, already a major champion and former world No. 1 at age 27 as he goes after his third victory this season and the 13th victory of his career.
Hovland and Morikawa had just left college at this time last year.
Hovland, the former U.S. Amateur champion from Norway, had eight birdies in his round of 66 and was two shots behind. Morikawa had to birdie the 18th for a 72.
Thomas figures it won’t be the first time they all play together.
â€œItâ€™ll be fun to hang with those guys tomorrow, but at the end of the day Iâ€™m worried about myself and trying to win a golf tournament and have a good round,â€ he said.
Thomas was at 16-under 200. The final round will start early because of heavy storms in the forecast Sunday afternoon, with threesomes starting on both tees.
Morikawa had the lead for 31 straight holes, dating to the 15th hole in the opening round, until missing the ninth green with a short iron, hitting a wild tee shot on the 10th that led to bogey, and sending his tee shot on the par-3 12th well over the green in such a bad spot that even making bogey was hard work.
â€œI put myself in spots you couldn’t put yourself in,â€ Morikawa said. â€œCouldn’t really figure out wind directions, how much to adjust. But whole new day tomorrow, and kind of glad I fought it out through even par got myself three back. So that can change really quickly tomorrow.â€
Hovland, who won the Puerto Rico Open this year, got back in the game quickly by opening with a pair of birdies at the start and making birdie on all the par 5s. He also took on the 14th hole, where the tees have been moved up for this tournament to play at 310 yards – reachable from the tee, but with bunkers left and water to the right.
Hovland hit his tee shot to 30 feet for a two-putt birdie.
Thomas tried to drive the green with a 3-wood Friday and had to work for his par. With the wind slightly at his back, he opted for a 6-iron off the tee and a short iron into the green. That led to a 10-foot birdie putt.
Morikawa went left of the bunkers off the tee and no chance to get it close with the green running away from him.
Hovand was thrilled to be in this position, especially with how his week started. He was 3 over through 10 holes on Thursday and finished with six birdies over his last eight holes. He followed with rounds of 67-66.
The spotlight will be on youth – Thomas is the veteran in this group – with a few others on the fringe of contention.
Sam Burns, a 23-year-old from LSU, had a 70 and joined Kevin Streelman (71) five shots back at 11-under 205. Ian Poulter, back at Muirfield Village for the first time since 2009 because of the reconfigured schedule, had a 69 and was six shots behind, along with Rory Sabbatini, who had a 69.
â€œIt’s going to have to be a low one tomorrow,â€ Poulter said.
The biggest surprise was M.J. Daffue, a 31-year-old from South Africa who played college golf at Lamar and has been struggling to make it as a pro. He was a Monday qualifier for the Workday Charity Open, getting into only his second PGA Tour event. He had to birdie his final hole Saturday morning to make the cut. And then he made an 18-foot eagle putt late in his round of 65, the best score Saturday.
He was seven shots behind and loving every minute of his time around the course Jack Nicklaus built.
The tour needs this tournament to end before the weather. The course is to be closed on Monday to replace all the signage and remove the 10 electronic scoreboards for the Memorial.
It’s the first time in 63 years the PGA Tour has had back-to-back tournaments on the same course.