Justin Thomas survived an up-and-down round to post a 3-under-par 67 and grabbed a three-stroke lead at 14 under after the 54 holes of play at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational on Saturday at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio.
Thomas’s round seesawed between six birdies and three bogeys but was good enough to allow him to enjoy a true advantage over pair of players tied for second place — Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (who shot a 67) and second-round co-leader Ian Poulter (70) of England on a day when scoring was at a premium on the demanding South Course.
“The hard part about this course is that you can get off-track pretty quickly if you are not playing well,” Thomas told CBS Sports after Saturday’s round. “That’s why — with the course being a little softer early in the week — we’ve seen such a variety of scores. If you are playing well, you can shoot low, but if you are not, you can shoot some pretty high numbers.”
Australian Jason Day bogeyed the 18th hole to shoot a 69 and end up alone in fourth at 10 under. Countryman Marc Leishman carded a 67 and ended Saturday tied for fifth with Kyle Stanley (70).
McIlroy said the greens on the South Course firmed up a lot during Saturday’s round and that the players we had adjust.
“I was putting well for par, but not putting well for birdie today,” McIlroy said. “I like to hit driver as much as possible, and this course allows me to do that, and to be aggressive. Hitting nine of 14 fairways today is a good number for me, and if I can to that on Sunday hopefully I will have a chance.”
Day, conversely, hit just four of 14 fairways.
“I need to drive the ball better,” Day said. “I’m not quite happy with it. When I’m in the fairways, I can give myself a good chance at a birdie putt, and that’s really the key for me. I will try to tidy that up tomorrow.
“I will need a lot of patience to win this tournament tomorrow, and the fact that the course is playing firmer and faster will have an impact on how things play out tomorrow. I don’t think there will be many low scores.”
Rickie Fowler, with a 5-under 65, posted Saturday’s low round while climbing 20 spots into a tie for seventh ninth place at 8 under, six strokes off Thomas’ pace alongside Jon Rahm of Spain (68)
Second-round co-leader Tommy Fleetwood of England (74) and Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa (69) are tied for ninth at 7 under.
Thomas, ranked third in the world, has had just one top-10 finish in his past eight tournaments and missed the cut at the Open Championship in his most recent event. He is in the hunt for his third win of the year and the ninth of his PGA Tour career.
Thomas hit nine of 14 fairways in his round, as well as 13 of 18 greens, and had 28 putts on Saturday.
“I just need to continue to go out and play well tomorrow because I have some really good players chasing me,” Thomas said.
Tiger Woods, the eight-time winner of this event, could manage only a 73 on Saturday and finished in a tied for 28th at 3 under par and out of contention.
This week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which will be relocated to Memphis next year and called the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, is the last scheduled to be played at Firestone Country Club after 65 years on the PGA Tour calendar.
—Field Level Media