AKRON, Ohio – Justin Thomas leads by three strokes entering the final round ever at Firestone CC for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which had me scrambling to find a few relevant comments from earlier this week.
>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest conversation delivered into your inbox each morning.
The first was from Thomas himself, who spoke about a winless “drought” that really only dates back to late-February when he won the Honda Classic.
“It feels like I haven’t won in forever,” he said. “It maybe has been a while, but it’s only been a couple months. It’s not like it’s been anything crazy. These last, what, six events, I really want to try to have an opportunity to win as many of these events as I can going into Sunday and on the back-nine, because that’s where I feel like I’m comfortable. It’s where I feel like I thrive; it’s what I enjoy; it’s why I play.”
Thomas will indeed have that opportunity on the back-nine Sunday.
Following rounds of 65-64-67, he’ll be chasing after his third win this season, seventh since the beginning of last year and ninth in his young PGA Tour career.
We’ve seen this year that anything can happen to a 54-hole leader, but staked to that three-shot lead, Thomas looks primed to close this one out. He owns a conversion mark of 5-for-7, meaning he not only enjoys being in this position, he’s also proficient with it.
If you’re looking to offset the current Thomas chalk (-150) with another bet, Rory McIlroy (+333) would be the obvious choice. Currently tied for second, he’ll play alongside JT in a star-studded final pairing. All of which also leads to that other comment from earlier this week.
McIlroy and Thomas have spent a lot of time together lately, practicing on the range in South Florida next to each other for much of last week.
That led to McIlroy being asked about his buddy — and providing a terrific answer.
“I like JT’s attitude over everything else,” he said. “He’s got a nasty streak in him, which I think you need out here. When he gets himself in the hunt, you can see like a little twinkle in his eye and he really enjoys it.”
It’s obviously foolish to rule out those playing in front of Sunday’s last twosome — including Ian Poulter and Jason Day in the second-to-last tee time, and Marc Leishman and Kyle Stanley in the pairing before them.
Still, it’s tough to imagine this title not coming down to Thomas and McIlroy, a battle between two of the world’s best players with the former holding an advantage.
Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Justin Thomas (left) shakes hands with Rory McIlroy (right).
Following the third round, Thomas echoed the sentiments of many of his peers, explaining that the course has firmed up considerably since the opening round.
That should bring the rest of the field into play more than a soft, easier track, because it means Thomas is now more susceptible to unforced errors. In other words, it might not take a 63 to catch him; instead, 65 or 66 could be enough to get it done.
Even so, I see this one as Thomas’ title to lose.
He’s trying to break that “drought” from his last win in February. He seems confident and determined to get back into that winner’s circle.
Granted, we can say that about every 54-hole leader. Not all of them, though, make a habit of converting like Thomas.