Justin Thomas uncomfortably looked back and forth from the hole to his ball on the par-5 fifth hole at Sedgefield Country Club. He took one last look, struck the putt and – watching the ball go in – couldn’t help but fist pump. Throughout the week, Thomas has been transparent with how hard he’s been trying amidst a slump, and on Saturday at the Wyndham Championship, his grit was evident.
He entered the Wyndham Championship at No. 79 in the FedExCup Rankings needing a minimum solo-18th finish but most likely a three-way tie for fourth to snag a top-70 Playoffs spot. He has crept closer and closer to that mark after a sluggish opening-round 70 with back-to-back rounds of 65 and 66.
After the final putt dropped on Saturday, he stood at T11, projected to move to No. 72 in the FedExCup standings, nine shots off the lead and six shots from fourth place.
“I played well. … I had great control of the ball,” Thomas said after his round. “I didn’t drive it as well as I would have liked on the back nine. When I got out of position, I feel like I did a great job of keeping it underneath the hole in a great spot to get it up and down, which I feel like I do well when I’m playing well.”
The 15-time winner on TOUR continued his sharp approach play on Saturday. Despite missing a birdie putt from 6 feet on the second hole, he jump-started his round with three straight birdies on Nos. 3-5, dropping putts from 9, 14 and 8 feet.
Thomas was unable to convert an 8-foot birdie putt on the eighth hole and carded his first bogey at the par-4 ninth after hitting his ball by a tree. He was denied temporary immovable object (TIO) relief from the nearby leaderboard and failed to get up-and-down after pitching out.
He made the turn in 2 under and went on to birdie the 13th with a 7-footer. After losing his tee shot left on the par-5 15th he managed to save par, eventually birdieing 17 for a bogey-free 33 on the back nine. He ranked 22nd in Strokes Gained: Approach and fifth in SG: Around the Green.
Thomas is striving for his ninth straight FedExCup Playoffs appearance. He compared his current position to the 2013 edition of the PGA TOUR’s Qualifying Tournament where he entered the fourth round in 122nd place. Needing a top-45 finish to earn his Korn Ferry Tour card, he finished with a closing 65 to tie for 32nd place.
“It’s very similar to Q-School,” said the 15-time TOUR winner. “I didn’t go into the final stage of Q-School trying to finish 45th; I went there trying to win a golf tournament. If I just came up short, then it was going to be plenty to qualify. It’s a very different but somewhat similar situation here.
“Yeah, it’s nerve wracking, but it’s a different kind of nerves. I mean, it’s a lot harder than trying to win a golf tournament, in my opinion. I think when you’re trying to win a tournament, you’re there and if you don’t win it’s a bummer, but you still had a great week kind of thing. If I just don’t get it done for what I need to get done this week, then it sucks and my year’s over.”
But Thomas is clear that he’s not using the stress as motivation, which has cost him in the past.
“I think that’s why I played so poorly the last month-and-a-half or two months. Like it’s just I’m putting so much pressure on myself to play well, it’s very similar to what happened to me in 2016. I felt like I started to try so hard at the end of the year when if I just would have kept doing what I was doing and trust my ability and my talent, then it could have been good enough. Hopefully I learn from my mistake and play well tomorrow and just see what happens.”
Russell Henley (No. 34, projected to No. 22) saw his grip on the leaderboard slip on Saturday as he dropped into solo third following a 5-under 65. But he’s just one shot behind leaders Billy Horschel and Lucas Glover and projected well within the top 30 for the TOUR Championship. … Byeong Hun An (No. 52, projected to No. 40) continued to improve his projected standing in the FedExCup thanks to a third-round 64. He stands solo fourth on the leaderboard, three shots behind the leaders. … Sam Burns (No. 19, projected to No. 19) didn’t make any moves in the FedExCup standings but his Saturday 65 vaulted him 31 spots up the leaderboard into a tie for 21st. … Adam Scott (No. 81, projected to No. 84) undoubtedly feels his Playoffs streak is coming to an end after carding a lackluster 69 on Saturday that featured six birdes and five bogeys, including three straight to end his round. … Shane Lowry (No. 76, projected to No. 78) also moved further away from the top 70 on Saturday with an even-par 70.
FEDEX ST. JUDE CHAMPIONSHIP BUBBLE WATCH
Here are the players projected to move inside the top 70 of the FedExCup after the third round of the Wyndham Championship. The top 70 will advance to the FedEx St. Jude Championship, set for Aug. 10-13 at TPC Southwind outside Memphis, Tennessee:
Lucas Glover (No. 112, projected to No. 50): A near-flawless round of 8-under 62 vaulted the 43-year-old Glover well inside the projected top 70 and to the top of the leaderboard, where he sits tied for first with Billy Horschel at 18 under. He came into the week needing a minimum of two-way tie for second to move on to Memphis, and he’s poised to make it happen. “It’s a win-win for me,” he said. “I played so poorly early in the year, I was gone so much, I hadn’t seen much of my family. So if I have to go home, that’s all right with me. If not, I’d love to play next week. Might change Sunday morning, but as of now it’s kind of house money for me.”
Billy Horschel (No. 116, projected to No. 53): A bogey-free round of 63 has Horschel in prime position not only to win at Sedgefield, but also to easily earn his spot in the Playoffs field next week. He came into Greensboro needing a minimum of a two-way tie for second and said he’s pleased with how the week is unfolding: “I’m happy where my game is, I’m happy where things are trending, I’m happy where mentally I’m heading. So hopefully it’s just another day of moving forward, it’s another stepping stone. I haven’t been here in a while, but I’m prepared for whatever comes tomorrow.”
Ben Griffin (No. 68, projected to No. 71): It’s a wait-and-see situation for the 27-year-old Griffin, who played college golf at nearby UNC-Chapel Hill and came into the week ranked No. 68. He arrived in Greensboro needing a likely two-way tie for 20th to move on to the Playoffs, but he missed the cut after shooting 70-73 and replaced Austin Eckroat on the bubble in the projections when play concluded Friday. But after Saturday, he’s on the outside looking in.
Austin Eckroat (No. 70, projected to No. 74): It’s also a waiting game for 24-year-old Eckroat, who arrived at the Wyndham as the man on the FedExCup bubble at No. 70. But two rounds of 1-over 71 at Sedgefield has left him outside the cutline with no control over his Playoffs destiny. “I knew making the cut was important this week and I played well enough to do that,” he said Friday. “I just made too many mistakes out there.” He came into the week needing at minimum a two-way tie for 11th to secure his spot next week in Memphis.
J.J. Spaun (No. 67, projected to No. 70): The 32-year-old Spaun ended his streak of three consecutive missed cuts at Sedgefield this week after opening with rounds of 68-70 to make the cut on the number. But a third-round 69 has left him as Saturday’s “bubble boy,” and he’ll need some Sunday magic to make it into the Playoffs. He came into the week likely needing a two-way tie for 21st; he currently stands T51 at 3 under, 15 strokes behind co-leaders Glover and Horschel.
Michael Kim (No. 91, projected to No. 80): After opening with a bogey on No. 1, the 30-year-old Kim rebounded with nine birdies to card a 62 and into solo sixth place on the leaderboard. It certainly helped his bid to make the Playoffs next week, but he still has work to do. He stands seven strokes behind the leaders and needs at minimum to finish in a three-way tie for third to secure his spot. “After the first day, I was looking at flights to go home in Dallas on Friday, and after I played a good round yesterday, pretty happy to make the weekend,” admitted Kim, whose lone TOUR win came at the 2018 John Deere Classic. “Felt like I was playing with house money. … Hopefully I can do more of the same tomorrow.”
Source : PGA Tour