KAPALUA (HAWAII) • Justin Thomas is doing his best to avoid a repeat of his lacklustre start to 2016, shooting a six-under-par 67 on Saturday to seize sole possession of the lead at the USPGA Tournament of Champions.
The American was at 201 after firing his third straight 67 at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.
The 23-year-old held a two-shot lead over the hottest player in the game, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (66), who is seeking his fifth win in his last six tournaments worldwide. Ryan Moore (71), who shared the lead with Thomas after the second round, was tied for third at 205 with fellow Americans Jimmy Walker (70) and William McGirt (66).
World No. 1 Jason Day (70) has his work cut out for him as the Australian was in joint-13th at 209.
After getting off to a flat start last season, when he missed the cuts at the Sony Open and the Career Builder Challenge, Thomas was mindful of being ready this year.
"I am just looking for a chance to win," he said. "It is nice to be able to put yourself in an opportunity in the first event of the year."
A rising star on the Tour, he posted six other top-10 finishes last season. He has got two USPGA titles to his credit, retaining his CIMB Classic title in Malaysia in October as the Tour's 2016-17 season was getting under way.
In Saturday's third round, he fashioned a string of three straight birdies beginning at the par-four third hole. He added an eagle on the par-four 14th and punctuated the round with a birdie at the par-five 18th. His only stumble came when he made bogey at the par-four seventh.
Matsuyama, who briefly held the lead in the second round, birdied all four par-fives on Saturday. His eight total birdies included five in a seven-hole stretch starting at the par-five ninth.
"Hideki is the hottest golfer in the world right now. I am glad he had some time off or I wouldn't like my chances going into tomorrow," said Thomas.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, still fine tuning his game to start the year, fired a 70. He was alone in 19th at 211.