On the most exciting NFL weekend of the season, Justin Thomas paid tribute to the sport on Saturday at the Sony Open where he is 22 under and in first place after a 5-under 65. How did Thomas give the NFL a nod? Well, at 22 under he leads by a touchdown (and an extra point) over Zach Johnson (15 under) going into the final round.
The 22-under 188 ties the lowest 54-hole score in PGA Tour history. Steve Stricker also shot 188 through three rounds at the 2010 John Deere Classic. Thomas will have a chance on Sunday to break the 72-hole scoring record of 254 set by Tommy Armour III at the 2003 Texas Open. Thomas will need a 65 on Sunday for the mark.
His third round started off a little slower than the other two. Thomas made par at his first eight holes of the day before dropping birdies at five of the final 10 for the 65. It was his worst score of the week as he shot 59 and 64 over the first two days. It was also enough to extend his five-shot second-round lead to seven over Johnson and eight over Gary Woodland, Justin Rose and Hudson Swafford.
"I really didn't hit my irons as well as I felt I could have, should have today," said Thomas. "I would take a lot more out of rounds like today than I have like on other days, where I not have my best stuff and shoot 5 under is awesome.
"I hit a lot of quality shots coming down the stretch when I could have been a little fatigued or lose focus a little bit. It was getting a little slow out there. It was easy to lose focus, but I just tried to stay in it."
Thomas has been generally unconscious over the last two weeks. After winning last week in Kapalua, he's first in the field in driving, first in tee-to-green play and third in putting this week. He is working the entire repertoire from left to right and back again. It's quite a show.
The most impressive part of Thomas' round from Saturday did not include any of his birdies, though. He has made 20 of those on the week (first in the field), but it was a 13-foot par putt on the par-3 seventh that kept the momentum going and kept him from dropping back to the field a little bit early on.
From there, it was straight fireworks. Thomas has played the two par 5s at Waialae Country Club in 8 under on the week. He played them in 2 under on Saturday including a 13-foot birdie at the 18th.
"Any time you can build a lead or get close to the lead is a big putt," said Thomas. The putt on 18, one of the easiest holes on the course. Sometimes those straight putts are the hardest when you're under a little bit of pressure like that."
Thomas will try and pull off the Hawaii double on Sunday (Thomas won the Tournament of Champions over Hideki Matsuyama last week). Not since Ernie Els did in in 2003 has somebody won both Hawaii tournaments to open up the calendar year.
"Played with a big lead today and felt like I handled it pretty well," said Thomas. "Just getting some rest tonight and just going out and treating tomorrow like another round of golf, just because it is."
Justin Thomas: leads by 7 strokes through 54 holes— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) January 15, 2017
Nobody in PGA Tour history has ever lost a 54-hole lead of 7 shots or more
It would appear as if this tournament is a foregone conclusion. The great thing about golf, though? We all know it's not (except with the way Thomas is playing, it probably is).