April 24, 2024

2023 Fortinet Championship: Justin Thomas within striking range of leader Sahith Theegala heading into Round 4

NAPA, Calif. (AP) — Justin Thomas continued up the leaderboard Saturday at the Fortinet Championship with a 7-under 65 that matched the best score of the day and moved the former No. 1 player within two shots of leader Sahith Theegala.

Theegala, in search of his first PGA Tour victory, had four birdies on the back nine, then holed a 9-footer for par on No. 18 for a 67 and a 17-under 199 total.

Cam Davis birdied his last four holes for a 65 to join Thomas and S.H. Kim (69) at 15 under. Kim had shared the lead with Theegala heading into the third round at Silverado Resort, but had to scramble after consecutive bogeys on the back nine.

Matt Kuchar, seeking his first tour win since 2019, also had a 65 and was three shots off the lead at 14 under. Eric Cole (68) also was 14 under.

Thomas had five birdies and holed out of a bunker for eagle on the par-5 15th.

A member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Thomas says his game still isn’t as sharp as he’d prefer, but is encouraged that he’s scoring and in contention at the first stop on the FedEx Fall schedule.

“I just felt like I was not very sharp today in terms of my actual golf game,” Thomas said. “Felt like I had a handful of wedges that I should have hit closer, a couple putts that I feel like I could have hit a little bit better, and I shot 7 under. To me, being in contention with I feel like the golf that I’ve had this week is more encouraging than anything.”

With a large throng of fans following him around the course, Theegala was erratic off the tee and was also forced to do a lot of scrambling. He was 1 under for the day through 11 holes then made back-to-back birdies on Nos. 12 and 13 to move into a tie with Kuchar and Thomas. He took the lead alone with birdies on the par-5 15th and par-3 17th.

“I really stayed patient at the start of the round,” Theegala said. “The big key for me is just try to keep it in the fairway, which I haven’t done a great job the last three days and I feel like I’m just scrambling. I feel like if I’m in the fairway, it’s almost feels like a bonus.”

Two-time defending champion Max Homa (70) was tied for 11th at 10 under.

Kuchar drew the most attention following his best round of the tournament. The 45-year-old had four birdies on the back nine including a chip-in out of the short rough on No. 17. Kuchar closed his day with a long putt for par on No. 18, drawing loud cheers and chants of “Kuch! Kuch!” from the crowd.

Kuchar had his best day of the tournament off the tee, hitting eight of 14 fairways which led to him getting to the greens for easier putts.

“This course is playing firm and fast, and when it’s that way stopping the ball on the green trying to get a ball to stop close to the hole, it’s tough,” Kuchar said. “For the most part it requires you around here to be in the fairway and try to be aggressive. I found a lot of fairways today.”

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