THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – It could get wild in the forest.
Exciting times lie ahead as Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm have positioned themselves for a Sunday showdown at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD
Amongst a birdie barrage on Saturday, it was the second and third ranked players in the world who forced their way to the top with Rahm setting the pace and Thomas coming home with a wet sail.
Rahm set Sherwood alight with a sizzling bogey-free 9-under 63 to move to 18-under. Thomas settled for a 5-under 67 with birdies on the 16th and 17th holes ensuring he wrestled the lead away at 19-under.
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The American Thomas found a way to score despite some inaccuracy off the tee and into the greens.
“It was a good fight, hung in there well. I felt like I definitely didn’t play as well as I did the first two days or didn’t have my best stuff by any means, but to shoot a round like that is huge on a course like this,” the former FedExCup champion said.
Spaniard Rahm hit every fairway on the round and needed just 25 putts. It was a welcome change from the opening two rounds where he needed 30 putts each day and lost strokes to the field. Well, the opening round and a half to be fair.
Rahm was five under on his final eight holes on Friday meaning he’s 14 under over his last 26. On Saturday, he was five under on his round through as many holes after three birdies and an eagle and turned in 30 before making three more on the back side.
“They started going in, that’s it. If we count Vegas, the last five and a half rounds my putter was absolutely cold, didn’t make anything at all,” Rahm said.
“It was that 20‑footer for eagle on 11 (Friday) that I made that just kind of freed me up a little bit, and I made a couple more putts. Then today… one dropped and it’s like OK, it’s possible to make putts and just keep going.”
Now the pair shake out as the most likely to be crowned champion, but both know it won’t be a simple scenario. Birdies rain down at Sherwood like arrows in a Robin Hood movie so these two aggressive players will not die wondering.
Plus there are plenty of players behind them who feel they have nothing to lose so they’ll be taking aim at each bullseye.
Lanto Griffin sits 17-under while Patrick Cantlay, Ryan Palmer, and Sebastian Munoz are just three off the lead at 16-under. Six players – Webb Simpson, Bubba Watson, Brian Harman, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Scottie Scheffler and Dylan Frittelli – all share seventh just four off the pace.
Griffin will play with the top dogs on Sunday and he’s relishing the chance. The Vivint Houston Open champion from last season is gearing up for his title defense in a few weeks and hopes to add another trophy to his cabinet prior.
“I’m going to have to play really well tomorrow, I’m aware of that. But it’s fun. This is what I dreamed about, the position I dreamed about being in my whole life,” Griffin said. “From being on mini tours, the Korn Ferry Tour, now to be here playing with the best players in the world in the final group, it’s a lot of fun.”
Griffin opened his round with four straight birdies and was the leader outright after a birdie on the 14th hole before a loose tee shot on the par-3 15th, found a penalty area. Despite that, and a closing hole bogey, he is ready for a Sunday chase.
“When it’s going your way, you can get on a heater and kind of like what I’ve done on the front nine, you’re never really out of it on a week like this,” he adds.
Thomas believes it.
“You literally can birdie every single hole out here… if you’re playing well, you can really get after it,” Thomas says. “I feel like you can just reel five in a row off like that… you just have to be in the right frame of mind for it.”
Rahm said he won’t be playing it safe or backing down either.
“Like it or not, you have to do it, it’s as simple as that,” he said about chasing birdies on the par-72 course that has seen a 69.048 scoring average through three rounds.
Interestingly enough, Thomas has been flawless on the back nine this week. He’s 14 under with 12 birdies and an eagle on holes 10-18 while he’s offset his seven front side birdies with three bogeys. Rahm is 10-under on the final nine. Griffin is 14 under on the front nine.
So get ready. Fireworks are set to ensue.
Source: PGA tour