KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - American Justin Thomas produced a tidy up-and-down from the back of the 18th green for birdie to ensure he went in to Sunday’s final round of the CIMB Classic tied for the lead with compatriot Brendan Steele.
Overnight leader Thomas, who flirted with a rare 59 before signing for an 11-under-par second round of 61, was again among the birdies on another day of low scores at the Kuala Lumpur Country Club, where preferred lies have been in use.
The 22-year-old seemed to lose momentum with bogey fives at the 12 and 16th but finished with two birdies in his third round of five-under-par 67 to sit on 20-under for the $7 million co-sanctioned Asian Tour event, the third of the new PGA Tour season.
“Those two birdies were huge,” the world number 64 said of his strong finish.
”I felt like I played really well for some stretches. I had some holes I didn’t hit it well, but I hit a lot of good putts that didn’t go in.
“So, it was nice to get that putt to go on 17 and 18, finish on a good note.”
Thomas is looking for his first win on the American circuit, while Steele has won just once, at the 2011 Texas Open, and blew a great opportunity two weeks ago when he shot a closing 76 after holding the third round lead at the Frys.com Open.
“I was pretty comfortable at Frys and then it all started kind of spinning out of control and I didn’t have a very good final round,” the 32-year-old Californian said after a bogey free six-under-par 66 on Saturday.
“I learned a lot from it. Feel like I’m in a better place now, mentally. I’ll be trying to be a little bit more patient and a little bit more positive, not kind of put so much pressure on myself.”
South Korean-born American Kevin Na has good memories of Malaysia after winning his first Asian Tour event in the country in 2002 and the 32-year-old put himself in position to notch another after a blistering 64 on Saturday.
That nine birdie effort left Na, who has finished second or tied in the opening two events of the campaign, one back of Thomas and Steele on 19-under.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama fired a 68 on Saturday to sit tied fourth on 17-under alongside American trio James Hahn (64), Brian Harman (66) and Spencer Levin (68), with former world number one Adam Scott (66) a further shot back on 16-under.
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Amlan Chakraborty