PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Through five holes on Saturday at The Players Championship it was impossible to ignore the déjà vu moment.
Justin Thomas birdied the first, the second, the third and the fourth holes to start his round and was eying his fifth consecutive birdie from the middle of the fifth fairway. It was identical to how he began his third round at the PGA Tour’s flagship event in 2015.
“I think you get through 4, and 5 is clearly a lot harder than No. 4 is or a couple of those holes, and hit a beautiful drive there and I just was staring it right down the smokestack with an 8-iron,” he said.
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And just like in ’15, Thomas “double-crossed” his approach shot to the fifth green and made bogey.
“That could have been the best thing to happen to me, to kind of wake me up and snap out of it, because I wanted to keep making birdies,” he said.
Thomas went one better than he did in ’15 with a third-round 64 and was tied for second when he completed his round. His round was a welcome reprieve following a difficult few weeks for the world No. 3.
In January at the Sentry Tournament of Champions microphones on the course picked up Thomas uttering a homophobic slur and the fallout prompted his longtime clothing sponsor to drop him.
A month later, ahead of the Phoenix Open’s final round, Thomas’ grandfather, Paul, a longtime PGA pro, died at age 89.
“I’ve had definitely my fair share of lows this season and I just had a lot of stuff going on mentally that I felt like I’ve never had to deal with and maybe taking things for granted or just not enjoying the game,” he said. “But it’s just when you’re able to get in those zones and hit those shots exactly how you see it, it’s fun. It really is.”
One of those fun moments occurred at the par-5 16th, where Thomas nearly holed his second shot from 204 yards.
That capped off a one-eagle, seven-birdie, one-bogey round, which was one shot off the tournament record. Asked if he felt like he could replicate his Saturday form on Sunday, Thomas said: “I would love to. I don’t think I need to, but I would love to because I would like my chances if I shot 64 again tomorrow.”