Pittsburgh, PA— Earlier in the week, Rory McIlroy could not help but admit that upon first encountering Justin Thomas, he could see that there was a nasty streak, one which has served him well throughout his PGA TOUR career.
“I like JT’s attitude over everything else,” McIlroy said. “He’s got a nasty streak in him, which I think you need out here. He has that. When he gets himself in the hunt, you can see like a little twinkle in his eye and he really enjoys it.”
For his part, Thomas seemed to acknowledge he had some kind of competitive streak though played a bit coy as well.
“I wish that I didn’t portray to others how I look,” said Thomas. “I have a very serious, mean look on my face. I take it very seriously and I want to win and I love to win.”
Thomas, the reigning FedEx Cup champion has not been in the winner’s circle since February’s Honda Classic, which he admitted felt way too long.
McIlroy’s assessment has proven accurate after three rounds of WGC-Bridgestone Invitational play and he will get a front-row seat to said competitive streak as Thomas owns a three-stroke lead heading into Sunday’s final round.
“I felt like I had been close,” Thomas said. “Like I said, the results and the scores didn’t show. I’m just happy to finally play this place well. Obviously I have a day left, but I played three really good days of golf. We still have a day left to just keep sticking to our game plan. I’m excited for the opportunity tomorrow. I guess it’s been a little while in my eyes, but have a lot of really good players that are going to be chasing me down so I need to play well tomorrow.”
McIlroy, the event’s 2014 champion, matched Thomas’s three-under par round of 67, highlighted by some of his best driving, averaging 357.5 yards off the tee.
“Probably the best I’ve hit it overall,” said McIlroy. “I hit some better wedge shots out there, which was good to see. I wish I could have converted a couple more of the chances, but it sort of all evened out. I holed a couple really nice putts for par in the middle of the back nine, so happy with that.”
McIlroy’s round now gives him 11 consecutive 18-hole under-par walks on the PGA TOUR. His career-high is 16 which was set in the 2014-15 wraparound season.
Second round co-leader Ian Poulter came into the round not expecting much change from a Firestone Country Club but the course dried up more than anticipated and the Englishman fired an even-par round to tie McIlroy for second place.
“When you look at the forecast, hot, blue sky today, definitely kind of changed some of the second shots into some of those pin locations, and it was tricky,” he said. “A little bit of wind out there, a couple of tough pin positions, you definitely saw a different golf course today to what you did the first two days.”
One thing which may help Poulter make up the three strokes is his current first-place standing in Strokes Gained: Putting which currently is +5.475.
Jason Day was not pleased with hitting four of 14 fairways but still grinded out a one-under par 69 which has him four behind Thomas’s lead.
“I think I know what I need to do,” said Day. “I’m going to go to the range and kind of work on it a little bit. I’m happy with the way things are.”
Second round co-leader Tommy Fleetwood had a third round to forget firing a four-over par 74 and is now tied for ninth, seven shots behind Thomas.
Given his third round success through this season, it may have surprised many that Tiger Woods went in the opposite direction on this Saturday, falling to three-under par after a round of 73.
Woods admitted he did not have a good warm up session and his play reminded him of the first round, but without making anything.
“I didn’t feel like I was in control of the golf ball today,” Woods said. “I just feel like I really couldn’t turn it around today, just felt off. I had a little bit of a pull, a little bit of a block, a little here, a little there. Just wasn’t as sharp as I needed to be, especially with everyone making a bunch of birdies. I needed to go get it today and I didn’t do it.”
Fourth round tee times will remain in twosomes save for Kodai Ichihara who is in last place in the 71-player field. McIlroy finished before Poulter meaning he will tee off with Thomas at 2 p.m.
WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Third Round Leaderboard
1. Justin Thomas -14
T2. Rory McIlroy -11
T2. Ian Poulter -11
4. Jason Day -10
T5. Marc Leishman -9
T5. Kyle Stanley -9
T7. Rickie Fowler -8
T7. Jon Rahm -8
T9. Tommy Fleetwood -7
T9. Louis Oosthuizen -7
Justin Thomas is five-for-seven when holding a lead or co-lead after 54 holes. A win would currently project Thomas moves to the top of the FedExCup standings… For the second consecutive day, there were three bogey-free rounds. Both Rickie Fowler (65) and Rory McIlroy (67) recorded their second blemish-free round of the week and Dustin Johnson (66) also went bogey-free… Saturday, the par-4 third hole played most difficult with a score of +4.324 to par and for a third consecutive day, the par-5 second proved easiest with a 4.310 score to par.
Photo credit: PGA TOUR Twitter