Justin Thomas lines up a putt on the 12th green during the third round of the Mayakoba Golf Classic.
By Christopher Powers
On Thursday at the Mayakoba Golf Classic, Justin Thomas shot arguably his worst round in three months, a one-over 72 that put him in an early hole. But if you ask him, Friday’s four-under 67, a five-shot improvement to make the cut, was far more frustrating.
“I very easily could have shot 62 yesterday,” said Thomas. “That was, I would say, I told my dad, the worst 67 in the history of golf.”
Hyperbolic, sure, but not without merit. Thomas finished bogey-bogey on Friday, undoing a ton of great work to get back into the mix. He also bogeyed the easiest hole on the golf course, in addition to missing a number of makeable birdie putts. The most maddening 67 in the history of golf may have been the more applicable phrase.
Thomas made up for it on Saturday at El Camaleon, skyrocketing up the leader board with a nine-under 62 to reach 12 under. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t satisfied with that either.
“It’s crazy to say that I left some out there,” Thomas said, “but I finally made some putts and felt a little better over it.”
This time Thomas was bogey-free, something he’ll likely need to do again on Sunday. He’s four back of leader Emiliano Grillo, with three players sandwiched in between. Lurking is the operative word here, and it would surprise no one if he throws up another 62 and wins this thing, which is exactly the plan.
“I can’t really worry about what anybody else is doing,” he said. “I just need to try to go out tomorrow and shoot another low one because you kind of can’t put a ceiling on this place when you’re playing it, you’ve just got to try and make as many [birdies] as you can.”
Viktor Hovland is trying to steal Daniel Berger’s storyline
Leading up to the November Masters, the player getting all the “how could he NOT be in the field?” love was Daniel Berger, which he deserved. Few players were better during the PGA Tour’s restart, and if anyone ever deserved a special invite it was him.
The other guy missing was Viktor Hovland, who finished low amateur at Augusta National in 2019 and won on the PGA Tour in 2020. Of course, his victory came at the Puerto Rico Open, which, as an opposite-field event, does not earn you a Masters invitation. Hovland was on the doorstep of the top 50 in the OWGR in the weeks after his win, but couldn’t quite get inside it to earn a last-minute spot.
Coming into Mayakoba, Berger was supposed to be Mr. Motivated after sitting at home and watching the Masters on the couch. Turns out, that guy is Hovland, who shot an eight-under 63 on Saturday and sits two off Grillo’s lead. Hovland has been incredibly consistent over the last 12 months, but did not have the summer and fall of fellow young studs Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa. And yet, a win on Sunday would give him two victories in 2020, the same amount as Morikawa and two more than Wolff.
This is still Emiliano Grillo’s to lose
Yes, he only has a one-shot lead over Tom Hoge and has a number of world-class players lurking close behind, but Grillo is still the man to beat on Sunday. His infamously balky putter has been scorching hot, which is exactly why he’s leading through 54 holes. His ball-striking is good enough to put him in the mix every week; it just comes down to making putts. If he makes a few on Sunday and limits any big mistakes, we like Grillo’s chances at career win No. 2.
It was Tony Finau time until it wasn’t
Speaking of guys desperate for a second career win, Tony Finau appeared primed and ready to position himself for just that on Saturday. After going par-par-par to begin his day, Finau aced the par-3 fourth:
He followed that with three birdies in his next four holes, turning in five-under 31 to get to 14 under. With plenty of birdie opportunities left on the back, Finau had a chance to make a run at the solo 54-hole lead.
That’s when he went completely cold, shooting a three-over 38 on the back nine and putting himself five shots back heading into Sunday. It’s seemingly always two steps forward, one step back for Finau, who needs a small miracle to get that second W on Sunday. He has the talent to get it done, but does he have that killer instinct like, say, Justin Thomas has? We haven’t quite seen it from him … yet.
Three players we can’t ignore
First up we have Hoge, who is just one off Grillo’s lead thanks to a six-under 65 that included five birdies in his last six holes. Hoge is hungry (no pun intended), has a ton to play for (a win would get him into the Masters for the first time) and has some experience in contending, particularly at seaside courses. It’d be a mistake to simply write him off on Sunday.
The next is Adam Long, who, you may recall, stared down Phil Mickelson at the 2019 Desert Classic. He’s at 13-under and has proven of late that he is far more than just a flash in the pan. Lastly, there’s Patrick Rodgers at 12 under. Rodgers was a phenom in college, but has never quite found the same consistency as a pro. He does, however, have the game to go flat out LOW, something he did at the 2018 RSM Classic when he went 61-62 on the weekend and lost to Charles Howell III in a playoff. Don’t be shocked if the winner comes from this trio.