Thomas opened his third round with an eagle and reached 13 under in two holes to take a one-shot lead at the Genesis Open. Meanwhile, Tiger got off to a hot birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie start to make his way up the leaderboard. 

By Daniel Rapaport
February 16, 2019

PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — About 25 minutes before Justin Thomas finally started his third round of the Genesis Open, golf’s most distinct sound echoed as the sun set on Riviera Country Club. The 13th hole is a good distance from the practice area, where Thomas was, but he had to have heard it.

You simply can’t miss a Tiger roar.

Woods had just rolled in a 10 footer for birdie to move to five under for his third round…through four holes. A birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie start—3–3–3–3 for those keeping score at home—saw this week’s host reach six under for the tournament and climb to within five of the lead.

A lesser player might have felt the heat. Started slow. Played conservatively.

Thomas? Not so much.

The world No. 4 hit three perfect shots on the gettable par-5 opener to make eagle, reach 13 under and take a one-shot lead as darkness halted play for the third straight day. It might not be a typical Saturday night sleep-on-the-lead experience, as Thomas is a full day of golf—play will resume at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, exactly 10 minutes after sunrise—and 34 holes away from his 10th PGA Tour victory, but it’s a lead nonetheless.

“My alarm will be about 4:15, 4:20 tomorrow morning,” Thomas said.  But again, it’s a lead nonetheless, and the early morning start will come at one of the finest golf courses in the world. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Adam Scott is one back at 12 under, while Patrick Rodgers and J.B. Holmes are two back at day’s end. Rory McIlroy was a bit further down the leaderboard at eight under, where he’s joined by Tony Finau and Paul Casey.

Woods followed up his torrid start with three straight pars and will enter the final day of play at six under, seven back of Thomas’s pace. Still a ways from contention, sure, but pretty impressive considering where he was at around 8:30 this morning.

Woods, who returned Saturday to finish off his second round, was even par for the tournament walking up the 9th fairway. He thought he needed a birdie to survive the cut, a prospect made more difficult by an approach shot that finished 24 feet above the flag. While he didn’t end up needing it—the cut finished at even par—Woods poured it right in the center to avoid missing the cut here for the second straight year.

“I was putting well today,” Woods said. “Hit a lot of good shots. The wind was pumping early, and I was able to flight right through it.”

Woods said he’ll start “the process” of preparing a 42-year-old body for yet another early, cold start at “2 or 3 in the morning.” He’ll then try to get up-and-down for par on the par-5 17th; he opted not to finish the hole as sunlight waned.

The word of the tournament has been “marathon,” as a rainy week in Southern California—yes, a rainy week in Southern California—disrupted normal protocol from the get-go. Play was suspended for a solid six hours on Thursday evening, and the entire field has been playing catch-up ever since. There have been starts and stops and starts aplenty; every single player in the field had to return at the crack of dawn either Friday or Saturday to finish a round. The final group on Saturday teed off at 5 p.m. local time and managed to complete just two holes before the horn blew.

“Yeah, it’s going to be 30-something [holes],” Scott said earlier. “But that can really work in your favor if you’re playing well. You want to be out there and play as many as you can while you’re hot.”

Complicating matters for players: this is the second straight week it’s been this way. Rain also impeded last week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which Phil Mickelson won after playing his final two holes on Monday morning.

Come to California in the winter, they said.

“This is something like seven out of eight days I’ve been up at 5 a.m.,” said a tired Jordan Spieth, who sits at seven under. “And tomorrow’s no different.”

If the weather finally cooperates—there is light rain forecasted for Sunday’s mid-morning—a champion will finally be crowned close to dusk.

That’s a few hours later than planned, but they all count the same.

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