State Their Case: Thomas and Davis hunting Theegala in Napa
8 Min Read
Written by Ben Everill @BEverillGolfbet
The cream has most certainly risen to the top at the 54-hole mark of the Fortinet Championship with 25-year-old young gun Sahith Theegala pacing and Justin Thomas and Cam Davis part of the chase pack closing in.
And while Theegala is in great shape at 17 under as he looks to lock in his very first PGA TOUR win, he knows his two-shot buffer to Thomas, Davis and S.H. Kim could evaporate quickly at Silverado Resort if he doesn’t bring his best to Sunday’s final round.
Veteran Matt Kuchar and mini tour legend Eric Cole are just three off the pace at 14 under with Callum Tarren next best at 12 under.
Two-time defending champion Max Homa hit the lead during the third round but ultimately settled at 10 under making the chances of a third straight victory slim.
Now the question for Theegala becomes… can he hold on? Can the ultra-talented star prove he’s learned from near misses in Phoenix and Connecticut over his early years and close out a victory?
Silverado can give up a low score. Lucas Herbert posted a 63 on Thursday and Davis, Kuchar and Thomas all put up tidy 7-under 65s on Saturday. The new routing that brings three par-5s into the closing stretch also brings some uncertainty… but despite this, I am still confidently calling this a six-man race.
So, as you look to potentially add to your gaming stable, here’s the reasons why the contenders can win in wine country, and also why they might not.
Sahith Theegala, -17, 1st (+135 to win)
Case For: Theegala is a stud. Despite the fact he hasn’t won on TOUR he’s certainly proven his skill level is high enough to be a multiple time winner. Posted a runner up and third place finish in his rookie season, making it to East Lake, and then backed it up by missing Atlanta by just one spot this season. He’s second in Strokes Gained: Putting this week, first in Scrambling and third in SG: Around the Green. After hitting just 10 greens in regulation on Thursday, he’s hit 15/18 the last two rounds. He’s also learned from near misses in the past. Oh, and he’s from California… like recent winners Homa and Cam Champ.
“I’ve been lucky enough to kind of win at every level and ultimately that's why we play. The reason I'm teeing it up this week is because I want to win,” he said. “I'm just so competitive, and we all hate losing out here... I think by sticking to this process that's worked so well for me the last few years, even though I haven't won in the last couple years, I see it all as a really big win for me.”
Case Against: Nerves. Not winning amongst the expectation of doing so is tough to box out of your thoughts. And while Theegala is clearly talented, the fact an achiever like Justin Thomas is breathing down his neck will be hard to ignore should JT get off to a fast start on Sunday. Theegala also needs to address his wonky tee shots. He ranks 46th in the field in SG: Off the Tee. If making birdies becomes a necessity down the stretch he needs to come from the short grass.
“The big key for me is just try to keep it in the fairway, which I haven't done a great job last three days and I feel like I'm just scrambling my butt off a little bit, which feels like a good thing because I feel like if I'm in the fairway, it almost feels like a bonus,” he added.
Sahith Theegala’s Round 3 highlights from the Fortinet Championship
Justin Thomas, -15, 2nd (+350 to win)
Case For: He’s Justin Thomas. You remember that guy. The one with 15 TOUR wins. Two majors. A FedExCup. While we might not have seen much of Thomas at his best in 2023, the talent is still locked in that body of his. And the first three rounds might be starting to wake him up. Thomas is third in the field in SG: Tee-to-Green and fifth in SG: Approach. Perhaps the most important factor is he’s 15th in SG: Putting. While his work on the greens held him out of the Playoffs, perhaps its trending back.
“I'm putting myself in a lot better positions to have good things happen, but more than anything, mentally I truly believe that good things are going to happen, so that's at least a good start,” he said.”
Case Against: It’s still 2023. And the 2023 Justin Thomas has not been stellar. While Thomas has forged his way well into contention he’s done so through a little bit of smoke and mirrors. He’s found just 17 of 42 fairways over the three rounds but has manufactured his way to the greens regardless. Can he hold that sort of pace if his inaccuracy flares up on Sunday?
“I scored very well. Honestly, I felt like I played better, quite a bit better yesterday than I did today. I definitely got a couple good breaks. I got away with a couple bad tee shots (and) a couple putts. I felt like I just pulled that putt on 14 and it just caught the edge,” Thomas explained. “I've been waiting a while for some stuff like that to happen, so it's nice to see it. But more than anything, I'm staying patient and I'm staying kind of within myself and I'm just managing my way around the course very well.”
Justin Thomas' incredible eagle hole-out is the Shot of the Day
Cam Davis, -15, 2nd (+400 to win)
Case For: Davis managed just one birdie on the front nine on Saturday and saw his position on the leaderboard slide dramatically. But, playing with the freedom of knowing his TOUR card and place in the 2024 Signature Events is secure, the Australian blitzed home with six back nine birdies to rocket into the mix. This freedom of mind is a huge factor for Davis who can be the type to ignore leaderboards. He’s fourth in SG: Off the Tee, fifth in SG: Tee to Green and ninth in SG: Putting.
“I just think the overall vibe for the tournament for me is a little more enjoyable than stressful, which it normally is for me…everything was working well,” Davis said. “I was hitting my driver well, my irons for the most part was getting me in pretty good positions, I kept myself out of trouble for the most part and when I did, I got an up and down, which is really good. To keep bogeys off the card around here isn't easy and I'm always happy when I'm able to keep a whole round together like that.”
Case Against: In the past, Davis can get caught in the trap of nerves when it comes to contention. While he’s already a proven winner on TOUR there is no doubt he could have won more. Davis is a process guy who doesn’t usually embrace leaderboard watching. But if he doesn’t watch a little, he could find himself falling behind anyone who streaks home, much like he did Saturday.
Cam Davis’ interview after Round 3 of the Fortinet Championship
S.H. Kim, -16, 2nd (+750 to win)
Case For: He is the only player in the field to be ranked inside the top 20 in all five Strokes Gained categories this week, including being second in SG: Tee to Green. Sunday is also his 25th birthday!
“Regardless of the result, I want to just have fun out there,” he said.
Case Against: His three bogeys for the week have all come at 13 (two) and 14 which can’t be great for the confidence coming down the stretch. Has just one prior TOUR top 10.
Eric Cole, -14, 2nd (+1000 to win)
Case For: Leads the field in SG: Tee-to Green and SG: Approach and knows what winning is all about, having done so numerous times in his former life as a mini tour legend. Has the experience from the Honda Classic to work with where he was runner up after a playoff.
Case Against: Ranks 47th in SG: Off-the-Tee and 41st in SG: Putting this week. Will need the birdies to drop Sunday to make up the deficit on the leaderboard.
Eric Cole sends in putt for birdie at Fortinet Championship
Matt Kuchar, -14, 2nd (+1200 to win)
Case For: Leads the field in SG: Putting. Has nine PGA TOUR wins. Has seen just about all the sport has to throw up in final rounds. Knows veterans can win here following Stewart Cink’s win three years ago.
“It's an exciting place to be. Certainly, a great leaderboard, some really good names up there at the top. I'm thrilled to be part of those names and looking forward to having some fun out there. Listen, this is kind of why we all play, you want to have a chance come Sunday and golf gets a lot more fun when you've got a chance to win a tournament on Sunday,” Kuchar said.
Case Against: While he was bogey-free on Saturday he did put up a triple bogey and double bogey on the back side of the course on Thursday. He’s T62 in SG: Off the Tee and 36th in SG: Tee to Green this week meaning he will need his putter to remain lights out good to have any hope.
September is Responsible Gaming Education Month. If you bet, set a budget and play within your means. To learn more, visit haveagameplan.org/pgatour.