Justin Thomas would be the first to tell you that he wasn’t good enough this past PGA Tour season. But, like any world-class player, he’d also be the first to tell you that he wasn’t nearly as far off as fans and media made it seem.
Sometimes, when that’s the case, all it takes is a good bounce or two to turn things around. That’s more or less what happened in Saturday’s third round of the Fortinet Championship, Thomas posting a bogey-free 65 — just his second round of 65 or lower since early February — and saying afterward that he felt he didn’t actually play that great.
“Honestly, I felt like I played better, quite a bit better yesterday than I did today,” said Thomas, referring to his second-round 67. “I definitely got a couple good breaks.”
Good breaks were hard to come by for Thomas during his prolonged slump, which could be nearing its end. At 15-under, he sits just two off the lead of Sahith Theegala and will tee off in Sunday’s penultimate pairing alongside SH Kim. Quite a different situation than the one he found himself in last month at the Wyndham Championship, where he fell to his knees on the 72nd hole after narrowly missing out on the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
“It’s just golf, anybody that’s been out here can tell you. It’s frustrating but wild at the same time,” Thomas said. “I’m putting myself in a lot better positions to have good things happen, but more than anything, mentally I truly believe that good things are going to happen, so that’s at least a good start.”
The shining example of Thomas’ positive thinking came at the par-5 15th hole on Silverado Resort’s North Course, a hole he parred each of the first two days despite a pair of good tee shots. On Saturday, he blocked one in the right rough, promptly turning to caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay and saying maybe the offline tee ball is what they needed to finally find a birdie on the hole.
Naturally, Thomas went on to make eagle instead, hitting his second into a greenside bunker and then holing out. Little did anyone watching at home know that he predicted it would happen on the walk up to the green, too.
“When I got there, I don’t know, I just liked the look of it,” he said. “And I told Bones walking in I think it’s about time we hole a bunker shot there. As soon as it landed, after that first bounce and it started rolling, I thought it was going to go in. So that was a pretty cool moment for us.”
Here comes JT 💪
An eagle hole-out from the bunker for @JustinThomas34.
He's 1 shot back. pic.twitter.com/OfN4NLKmmf
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) September 16, 2023
One final birdie at the par-5 18th, his fifth of the day, put Thomas firmly in striking distance for his first win since the 2022 PGA Championship. It would be a perfectly-fitting slump-ender just before he heads to Rome for the Ryder Cup. Win or lose, though, he’s just happy to be in the hunt again.
“It’s the best,” Thomas said of being in contention. “The crowd is amazing today, seemed like there was quite a lot of people out there. The finishing stretch obviously creates a lot of excitement. Yeah, this is why all of us play, so it’s nice to be a part of those roars a little bit.”