MEDINAH • Winless over the last 12 months, Justin Thomas knew he was playing well and that he was due for a low round.
But Saturday at the BMW Championship was more than he might have imagined.
The 26-year-old American smashed the course record at Medinah with an 11-under 61 and a 21-under 195 total that gave him a six-shot lead over Patrick Cantlay and Tony Finau, who both carded 68.
Thomas opened with five birdies, and none was worthy of a highlight reel because of what followed. He hit a five-wood from 260 yards on the par-five 10th that was so pure he twirled his club and watched it roll out to two feet.
But that was not among his top three memories on Saturday.
"I'm very lucky that I had a couple to choose from today," Thomas joked.
In fluffy grass behind the 14th green, he chipped in for birdie. From 180 yards in the 16th fairway, he holed out for eagle.
GO WITH THE FLOW
It's not like I made any long putts. I hit it close to the hole and took advantage of some opportunities when I had them and got a couple good breaks..
JUSTIN THOMAS, American golfer, after his 11-under 61 round .
But he felt his best shot was the next hole, a nine-iron from forward tees to a front pin over the water to six feet for his eighth birdie of a remarkable round.
"It was easy to get pretty wrapped up in the emotions and get the adrenaline going and I had to take a little bit off that nine-iron," said Thomas, the world No. 10. "If I'm trying to be perfect there and I don't hit it right, that very easily could go in the water."
Barring a collapse in yesterday's fourth round, Thomas has a clear path to his first victory since the Bridgestone Invitational last August, along with the lead going into the Tour Championship next week and the chase for a US$15 million (S$20.8 million) prize.
Only seven players in PGA Tour history have lost a six-shot lead in the final round, most recently Dustin Johnson at the HSBC Champions two years ago.
The performance was a reminder of the talent possessed by the former world No. 1, who clinched his first Major two years ago at the PGA Championship.
But he suffered a setback this season when he injured his wrist in March and he eventually took six weeks off to let it heal, missing the PGA Championship before failing to make the cut at the US Open.
Meanwhile, the goal for Tiger Woods is simply to get to the Tour Championship, where last year he ended five years without a win.
The 15-time Major champion had a bogey-free 67 on Saturday, the American's lowest score since the final round of the Memorial.
When Medinah is this much of a pushover, it did not help all that much. Woods 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.
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 on Thursday by Thomas and Jason Kokrak.
Hideki Matsuyama set the standard with a 63 on Friday. Thomas beat that by two.
"It's just one of those freaky days when you get in the zone," said Thomas.
"I hit the ball pretty unbelievable. It's not like I made any long putts. I hit it close to the hole and took advantage of some opportunities when I had them and got a couple good breaks."
ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS