NORTON — On a golf course softened by daylong misty rain, Justin Thomas shot an 8-under-par 63 at the Dell Technologies Championship Sunday to leapfrog the front-runners and take a share of the lead at 12-under 201 with Marc Leishman.
Though the weather made conditions changeable, the 24-year-old PGA Champion was in control. He birdied eight holes, gave up no bogeys, and generally treated TPC Boston like a Cape Cod pitch and putt.
Well, not so much the putt part. His control on the greens was complete. He made 156 feet of putts for birdies, and scored 12 3s, a FedEx Cup playoff record. The putts were not all gimmes, including two of more than 26 feet and one that snaked 49 feet 2 inches across the green before dropping in.
“I just was seeing [the putts] a little bit better today,” Thomas said. “These greens are so hard to read to me. There’s just so many times where it’s breaking one way and at the end it will go the other way or vice versa. I mean, I had a triple-breaking putt today, which is absurd. That just doesn’t happen very often.”
The rain made the air a little thick, too, and drives didn’t soar as expected.
“The hardest it probably rained all day was on 18,” Thomas said, “It’s 260 yards to carry that bunker and I hit a drive right on the screws and I didn’t carry it. I usually carry a driver 300 yards so I think you can do the math.”
Thomas has a novel way of playing the 498-yard par-4 12th, one of two remodeled holes — with two bunkers in the middle of the fairway — that Thomas has played at 1 under this week, while the field averaged 4.886 Sunday. From the tee, he aims for the left side of the adjacent 13th fairway. He said he felt the 13th fairway was an easier route to the 12th green.
“That’s just a hole I’m not trying to make a birdie,’’ he said. “I’m trying to make a par. I know if I can make four 4s, then I’m probably going to gain two shots on the field. “
It’s just another way to control the game.
When he arrived at TPC Boston this weekend for the second step of the four-tournament FedEx Cup playoffs, Thomas was in good shape in the standings (ranked third), but he was still a bit out of sorts. He was tired and uninspired, he said he just didn’t have it, and he played that way for two days (71-67).
“I’ve just stayed patient,’’ he said. “I felt I wasn’t far off but I just, I know, I wasn’t hitting it, wasn’t hitting the shots.”
Thomas said his turnaround could not be attributed to a great warm-up Sunday, but more likely a change in his approach.
“I got out there and I think I probably got back into more of me golf, where I’m feeling it and trying to hit my numbers and trying to hit my shots, as opposed to golf swing,’’ Thomas said. “That’s something Coach [Jay] Seawell [golf coach at Alabama] always said: ‘Play golf, not golf swing.’ I think that’s what I did today.”
After winning the PGA Championship, four-time Tour winner Thomas has been prominent in conversations about Player of the Year, along with his pals and rivals Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson. A FedEx Cup title at East Lake in Atlanta would almost make the contest a moot point – except for the $10 million check.
“I just felt I had total control of my game,’’ Thomas said. “I drove it beautifully. I hit my irons really well and my short game was good if I needed it.
“But it’s crazy to think I did that and parred all the par 5s. Played them even par. That’s a little bit of a bummer if I could somehow have a downside to the day.”
Should he nail down how to score on the par-5s, the rest of the field is in trouble.