Rising star Thomas leads Tournament of Champions

LOS ANGELES: Justin Thomas is doing his best to avoid a repeat of his lacklustre start to 2016, shooting a six-under 67 on Saturday to seize sole possession of the lead at the USPGA Tournament of Champions. Thomas was at 18-under 201 after firing his third straight 67 heading into Sunday’s final round at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii. The 23-year-old American had 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. Second round co-leader Ryan Moore was tied for third at 14-under with fellow Americans Jimmy Walker and William McGirt.

World No. 1 Jason Day of Australia has his work cut out for him as the Australian was tied for 13th at 10-under following a three-under 70. After getting off to a flat start last season, when he missed the cut at the Sony Open in Waialae, Hawaii, and the Career Builder Challenge in La Quinta, California, Thomas was mindful of being ready for 2017. A rising star on the Tour, he posted six other top-10 finishes last season. He’s got two USPGA titles to his credit, successfully defending his CIMB Classic title in Malaysia in October as the tour’s 2016-17 season was getting underway.

In Saturday’s third round, Thomas 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 18. His only stumble came when he made bogey at the 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. Defending champion Jordan Spieth, still fine tuning his game to start the year, fired a three-under 70 in a round that included a double bogey and an eagle on the front nine. He was alone in 19th at 211, 10 strokes back of Thomas. — AFP