ERIN, Wis. — Justin Thomas took to the practice range at Erin Hills before Saturday’s third round of the U.S. Open sporting fluorescent pink slacks. “Yeah, yeah, I know. I better go low wearing these,” Thomas said to some ribbing from his colleagues.
Oh, did Thomas go low. The 5-10, 145-pound dynamo lit up the scoreboards with plenty of red numbers as he established a U.S. Open record for lowest round in relation to par with a 9-under-par 63. Under overcast skies and destroying forgiving Erin Hills that has been softened by storms, Thomas signed for the 30th 63 in major championship history.
Thomas, who shot 59 en route to victory earlier this year in the Sony Open, hit one spectacular shot after another. He made a birdie on the fifth hole when he putted the ball sideways because of a slope. He made birdie on the 12th out of waist-high hay. He capped his round with a brilliant 3-wood from 310 yards and made an 8-foot eagle putt. In all, he made nine birdies and an eagle.
“It was obviously an awesome day,” said Thomas, 24, who has three wins this season and is pound-for-pound the longest player on the PGA Tour. “I'm a part of history. It means I have a lot better chance to win the tournament than I did when the day started. I felt like I've been playing pretty well all week, and didn't have quite the numbers to show for it. Obviously, today I definitely had something to show for it.”
What he doesn’t have to show for it is the lead. In what has become the U.S. Wide Open, Thomas is just one of many players who can wind up leaving Wisconsin with the U.S. Open trophy. Heading into the final 18 holes, there are 16 players within six shots of the lead. Atop the leaderboard is Brian Harman, whose 67 took him to 12 under. Then comes Thomas and Brooks Koepka (68), who are one shot back. At 10 under is Rickie Fowler (68). At 9 under is Players Championship winner Si Woo Kim (68). At 8 under are Patrick Reed (65), Russell Henley (67) and Charley Hoffman (68). At 7 under are Bill Haas (69), Brendan Steele (69), Brandt Snedeker (70) and Xander Schauffele (70). At 6 under are J.B. Holmes, Hideki Matsuyama and Bernd Wiesberger (69). “It's pretty jam packed,” Thomas said. “Tomorrow’s going to be fun.”
And Sunday should be filled with more red numbers as more overnight rain is expected to hit the already soft course. And wind — the course’s best defense — has not been a factor at Erin Hills all week and may not be again on Sunday.
“Being this soft, birdies are going to happen,” Thomas said. “You never know how the USGA is going to set it up. It was definitely conducive for good scores today. You could get after it a little bit. It doesn't matter how long the course is. When you give us soft greens, good greens and not much wind, you know there are going to be some good scores. I was just happy that I was the one that was able to take advantage of it today.”
Thomas and Fowler are staying together in a rental home this week. Fowler smiled when he said it would be great to listen to Thomas recount his 63 when the two got back to the house. And then comes Sunday. “It's going to be a really cool day for someone tomorrow,” Fowler said. “I'm looking forward to my shot at it. It's not going to be an easy day, for sure. I've been there a handful of times and had some good finishes. But I'm looking forward to getting the job done. “But seeing the leaderboard, a lot of young guys, lot of great players. Someone has a very good chance of ending up with their first major tomorrow.”
Harman, who won his second PGA Tour title this year in the Wells Fargo Championship, said sleeping on the lead will be no problem. “I have a 1-year-old at home. She doesn’t care if I’m leading the U.S. Open or not. My wife and I will cook dinner, we’ll relax. Sleeping won’t be a problem.” He’s handled the pressure all week. This is the first U.S. Open where he made the cut. The first major he’d led after 54 holes. The first time he’s playing in the final group in the final round on one of golf’s biggest stages.
“We're breaking down all kinds of barriers,” he said. “I'm proud of the way I hung in there today. I got off to a pretty good start, which I really haven't done yet, so that was nice. Struck it well, had a couple putts that could have gone that didn't, but had a bunch of looks, hit a bunch of greens, and that's what you've got to do to play well around here. “I’ll just stick with the game plan and see what happens.”
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