FedExCup No. 1 Thomas takes lead into Sunday at WGC-Mexico ChampionshipIn search of third win this season, 13th on PGA TOUR
February 22, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Justin Thomas takes the solo lead at WGC-Mexico
MEXICO CITY – Club de Golf Chapultepec is not without its defenses.
The altitude (7,800 feet) can make club-selection tough, and the thin air can make the simple act of walking a challenge. Justin Thomas and his caddie, Jimmy Johnson, have a rule that there’s no talking allowed as they trudge up the uphill, par-5 sixth hole.
Sometimes, though, everything seems to break in favor of the players, which is what’s happening at the World Golf Championship-Mexico Championship. Saturday, one day after the course gave up a 62 and two 63s, Jon Rahm broke the course record with a 10-under 61, and Thomas shot a 6-under 65 that gave him the outright lead heading into Sunday.
“Just go out and play golf and keep doing what we're doing,” Thomas said of his plan for the final round. “Try to get off to a little better start on one (he bogeyed the short opening hole), but for the most part I feel like I'm playing well, doing all the right things.”
Erik van Rooyen and Patrick Reed each shot 67 to reach 14 under, just one back. Van Rooyen, who plays the European Tour, is ranked 52nd in the world but could make the field for THE PLAYERS Championship for the first time if he cracks the top 50 by March 2.
“If I play well, I can win anywhere,” said South Africa’s van Rooyen, who played collegiately for Minnesota. “There’s going to be a little bit of nerves, and if I can control that and stay in my bubble, I’ll be all right.”
Rahm, arguably the hottest player at Chapultepec, Rory McIlroy (68) and Bryson DeChambeau (71) are at 11 under, still with a chance. They’ll need to go low.
“I think the main thing, I just need to stay focused on what I have to do, know that I'm not going to get as lucky as I did today, and maybe know that I'm not going to make every putt I look at,” said Rahm, who made 111 feet of putts Saturday. “Just stay confident that I'm under control of my golf swing and keep hitting the right shots and hopefully get a decent start and give the leaders something to think about.”
If you had to pick a favorite before the tournament began, Thomas would have been high on the list. He finished ninth last year, runner-up the year before, and T5 in 2017. Simply put, he’s done pretty much everything but win. He would have taken a two-shot lead into Sunday but for a bogey at 18, giving him bookend bogeys to what was an otherwise solid round.
“I played a lot of really, really solid good golf throughout the middle of the day,” he said, “and made some good putts when I needed to and hit a lot of good putts that didn't go in, as well.”
Indeed, Thomas’ putting has pushed him to the top of the leaderboard. He made 95 feet of putts Saturday, took 26 putts, and ranks fourth in Strokes Gained: Putting (+5.210) for the week.
Before every round, his teaching pro father, Mike, has set up drills for him on the practice green using knitting needles and stretchable string, plus a gizmo called the Perfect Putter.
It seems to be working.
“He's never been here before,” Thomas said of his dad. “He asked a couple weeks ago if I minded if he came. I said it didn't matter to me. This is usually a guys' week anyway. Not many wives or girlfriends come. Just usually the guys are going to dinner every night, so he's one of the guys, so it was a pretty easy call.”
It would certainly sweeten the celebration Sunday if all goes according to plan, but this is Chapultepec, where birdies and eagles fly, and players can move up the board in a hurry.
Then again, perhaps the next to go low will be Thomas, who so far has gone 67-66-65.
“I really, really hope that that trend continues tomorrow,” he said. “… I'm going to go home. I'm going to get some rest and probably get some more tacos.”