MEDINAH, Ill. — Justin Thomas opened with five straight birdies, added a pair of eagles and shattered the course record at soft, vulnerable Medinah with an 11-under 61 to take a six-shot lead into the final round of the BMW Championship.
Thomas hit 5-wood to 2 feet for an eagle on No. 10, holed out from 180 yards with an 8-iron on No. 16 and made eight birdies to turn a tight race into a one-man show.
“I felt good about my game for a while, and you don’t know when something like this going to happen,” Thomas said. “We’ve all been talking the last couple of weeks that I’m due to have one, and it’s nice when it happens.”
And just like that, he was already thinking about Sunday.
Thomas was at 21-under 195, six shots clear of Tony Finau (68) and Patrick Cantlay (67). He has a clear path to his first victory in a year, and it would give him the FedEx Cup lead going into the Tour Championship at East Lake.
The goal for Tiger Woods is simply to get to the Tour Championship, where last year he ended five years without winning. Woods had a bogey-free 67, his lowest score since the final round of the Memorial.
When Medinah is this much of a pushover, it didn’t help all that much. He was tied for 31st, with some 18 players ahead of where he needs to be to move into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup and advance to East Lake.
“I shoot 60, it should be all right,” Woods said, a tongue-in-cheek comment made about the time Thomas was teeing off.
He had a pair of 12-foot birdie putts, hit to 2 feet on No. 3, holed a 15-footer on No. 4 and was out of position only briefly before a fifth straight birdie on the par-5 fifth. But it was the back nine where Thomas seized control.
First, he drilled a 5-wood that rolled out to 2 feet below the cup. Ordinarily, that might have been his best shot of the day. For this round, it didn’t rate among the top three. He chipped in for birdie from a fluffy lie behind the 14th green. Understated was his pitch to the 15th after driving into the water to save par.
And then, the fireworks on a cloudy, dreary afternoon that featured a rain stoppage of just more than an hour.
From 180 yards, he cut an 8-iron that looked all the way, landed short of the hole and rolled in. Thomas smiled and mentioned, “Brooks Koepka’s money,” to caddie Jimmy Johnson, referring to a wager Thomas has with Koepka on holing shots from over 50 yards ($1,000) and a hole-in-one ($5,000). That put Thomas up $7,000.
With adrenaline running high, he hit 9-iron from a forward tee and a front pin over the water to 6 feet for his last birdie.
Finau holed out from the fourth fairway for eagle. Cantlay had five birdies.
Low scores were everywhere.
Medinah never looked more vulnerable.
“It doesn’t matter what golf course it is,” Thomas said. “You give us soft, good greens and soft fairways, we’re going to tear it apart. It’s just how it is.”
All but two players in the 69-man field — Harold Varner III and Cameron Champ — were at par or better.
In five majors held at Medinah, the lowest score was a 65. That was matched twice Thursday by Thomas and Jason Kokrak. Hideki Matsuyama set the standard with a 63 on Friday. Thomas beat that by two.
“I hope the trend doesn’t continue unless it’s me,” Thomas said with a grin.
Thomas hasn’t won since the Bridgestone Invitational last year at Firestone, and he wasn’t ready to call this one over. He wasn’t thinking about next week and the $15 million prize, or even making sure he starting his season on Maui with the rest of the PGA Tour winners.
He’s up by six. He wants to make it seven.
Only seven players in PGA Tour history have lost a six-shot lead in the final round, most recently Dustin Johnson at the 2017 HSBC Champions.
For others, plenty is at stake.
Rory Sabbatini shot 30 on the back nine — four birdies over his last five holes — and was alone in fourth. That would be enough to get him into the Tour Championship for the first time since 2007, the first year of the FedEx Cup.
Finau could lock up a spot on the Presidents Cup team if he were to keep his position, even better if he were to finish alone in second. Lucas Glover was nine shots behind, but still projected to be among the top 30.
The perks of the Tour Championship include a chase for a $15 million top prize, along with a spot in all the majors next year.
Vintage grad McCarron 2nd in Champions event
ENDICOTT, N.Y. — Monday qualifier Doug Barron had a one-stroke lead in the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open when lightning forced the suspension of play late in the second round Saturday.
Making his second PGA Tour Champions start after turning 50 last month, Barron was 10 under for the tournament playing the par-4 15th when play was stopped at En Joie Golf Club.
Barron got into the field Monday with a 66 at The Links at Hiawatha Landing. He’s coming off a fifth-place tie in the Senior British Open in his Champions debut.
Vintage High School alumnus Scott McCarron was tied for second after a 66. He won the event two years ago,
Marco Dawson, playing alongside Barron and Miguel Angel Jimenez in the final group, also was 9 under with Scott Parel and David McKenzie. Playing together in the second-to-last group, Parel and McKenzie also were on 15 when play was suspended.
Jimenez was 8 under. He birdied the par-3 14th, hitting a 5-iron to a foot on the 209-yard hole.
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Tied with Jimenez for the first-round lead after a 65, Barron made a long eagle putt on the par-5 third hole and added birdies on the next two par-5 holes, the fifth and eighth. Barron bogeyed the par-5 12th.
Barron was winless on the PGA Tour in 238 starts, playing the PGA Tour’s defunct B.C. Open seven times at En-Joie. In 2009, three years after losing his PGA Tour card, Barron became the first player to be suspended by the tour for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He was suspended for one year.
Billy Andrade. Duffy Waldorf and 65-year-old Jay Haas joined Jimenez at 8 under. Waldorf had two holes to play, and Andrade had three left. Haas shot his second straight 68.
Fred Couples was 6 under after a 68. The 1991 B.C. Open winner is back at En Joie for the first time in 24 years.
Senior British Open winner Bernhard Langer also was 6 under after a 70. He won at En Joie in 2014.
Augenstein, Ogletree in U.S. Amateur final
PINEHURST, N.C. — Andy Ogletree took a peek at the bracket before the U.S. Amateur quarterfinals and made a prediction to his caddie: He would face John Augenstein in the final.
He was right.
Augenstein beat William Holcomb V 3 and 2 in one semifinal Saturday, and Ogletree topped teenager and fellow Mississippian Cohen Trolio 3 and 1 in the other.
“I just thought we were the best two players left, the most experienced,” Ogletree said about his prediction.
They will meet Sunday in a 36-hole final split over two courses, starting on Pinehurst’s renovated No. 4 course and finishing at No. 2 — the site of three men’s U.S. Opens and the 2008 U.S. Amateur.
And for all the buzz about the young players in the field — including the 17-year-old Trolio — both finalists are 21-year-old college seniors with match-play experience.
“I just kind of trusted that the golf would take care of itself,” Ogletree said. “You can’t really think a match ahead. You have to take one match at a time and I’ve done a really good job of that. One shot at a time, one match at a time. I actually looked at the brackets and told (caddie Devin Stanton) I think we’ll be playing John. It’s there, and we’re ready.”
Augenstein — from Owensboro, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt — was the highest-ranked of the four semifinalists, and at No. 38 in the world amateur ranking, the only one in the top 100.
“I’ve been through this match-play thing too many times to assume that somebody’s going to make it just because of their name,” Augenstein said. “Teams get beat in college (by opponents) that aren’t as good, and players get beat all the time (by opponents) that aren’t as good. ... People get beat in match play.”
He made par on his first 15 holes, and after briefly trailing for the first time in five rounds of match play, went 2 up with a par on the par-4 14th and ended it with a birdie on the 16th.
That earned him a spot opposite Ogletree, the Georgia Tech player from Little Rock, Mississippi, who ended Trolio’s bid to become the youngest finalist in U.S. Amateur history.
Ogletree won the first hole and never trailed after that, but his lead was never larger than 2 up until the end, and Trolio closed within a hole with his par on 14. After they halved No. 15, Ogletree won the 16th with a par to Trolio’s double bogey and wrapped it up with a birdie — just his second of the day — on the par-3 17th.
Playing nine days after his 17th birthday, Trolio would have eclipsed Sung Yoon Kim — who was 17 years, 3 months, 5 days when he reached the championship match 20 years ago. Trolio, from West Point, Mississippi, was the only player in the match-play field of 64 without a world amateur ranking because he has not played in an event that would yield a ranking during the last two years.
“It proves to everybody else that I can compete here, Trolio said, “and also it proves to me, more than anybody else, that I have what it takes to compete.”
Augenstein beat two opponents in the top 10 of the amateur ranking in the early rounds, and neither he nor Trolio had trailed during four rounds of match play — until the semifinals, when both fell behind early in their matches.
Unlike Trolio, Augenstein regained the lead. He went ahead for good late on the front nine, breaking a tie by winning Nos. 6 and 7 and moving 2 up on Holcomb, a Texan and 21-year-old senior at Sam Houston State.
“It hasn’t really sunk in that it’s over,” Holcomb said. “I don’t even think it’s sunk in that I got as far as I did.”
Pieters takes Czech Masters lead
VYSOKY UJEZD, Czech Republic — Thomas Pieters birdied the final hole to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the Czech Masters on Saturday.
Two shots off the lead after the second round, the Belgian golfer had a strong start on the front nine. He recovered from a bogey on the third hole with four straight birdies and added an eagle on the par-5 9th to top the leaderboard.
But the 2015 Czech Masters champion opened the back nine with another bogey and had to wait until the birdie on the 18th to regain the lead and close at 6-under-par 66 for a 16-under 200 total at the Albatross Golf Resort near Prague.
“The key to that front nine was the driving,” Pieters said. “I hit it really far and straight so that was presenting a lot of birdie opportunities and a lot of short clubs into the holes.
“To convert the putt on nine after a wonderful six iron in was great, and it’s the closest I’ve come to a two on a par five.”
Adria Arnaus of Spain surged on the leaderboard with a bogey-free round of 7-under 65 with seven birdies that gave second place to himself at 15 under.
Overnight leader Edoardo Molinari of Italy dropped his first shot at the Czech Masters on the 14th to finish at 2-under 70 and share third with Swedes Rikard Karlberg (66) and Robert Karlsson (67), Chile’s Hugo Leon (67). They were two strokes behind Pieters.
Defending champion Andrea Pavan of Italy carded a 71 to be tied for 17th at 9 under.
Three-time major champion Padraig Harrington was on 2 under overall after a 73.