Flawless Thomas cruises two clear

Early start for the final round due to expected bad weather. Live Featured Group coverage will now start at 12pm on Sky Sports Golf.

By Keith Jackson

Last Updated: 11/07/20 11:59pm

Justin Thomas seized control of the Workday Charity Open and completed 54 holes without a bogey as he cruised into a two-shot lead at Muirfield Village.

Thomas’s accuracy and distance-control were once again in fine order in favourable conditions over the Ohio layout, and a six-under 66 was arguably a poor return for his consistent all-round performance.

Justin Thomas takes a three-shot lead into the final round Justin Thomas takes a three-shot lead into the final round

Justin Thomas takes a three-shot lead into the final round

His second consecutive 66 lifted him to 16 under for the tournament and into a two-stroke lead over Ryder Cup hopeful Viktor Hovland, while overnight leader Collin Morikawa went from three ahead to three behind after his title chances took a knock with three bogeys in four holes around the turn.

Sunday’s final round will start much earlier than expected due to the threat of bad weather, with the final threeball of Thomas, Hovland and Morikawa teeing off shortly after 2pm (BST) – around four hours earlier than originally scheduled.

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Thomas opened with three cast-iron pars before finding himself in a spot of bother at the fourth, but he protected his blemish-free record with a seven-foot putt for par and then birdied the next three holes to move smoothly to 13 under.

The world No 5 picked up another shot at the 11th and missed good chances from 15 feet on each of the next two greens before holing from 10 feet for birdie at 14 and two-putting from distance for another at the par-five 15th.

An exquisite bunker splash-out to a few inches ensured a par at the short 16th, and he misread an eight-foot putt for birdie on 17 before another rock-solid par at the last closed out an impressive day’s work from the 27-year-old.

Thomas has not dropped a shot in 54 holes Thomas has not dropped a shot in 54 holes

Thomas has not dropped a shot in 54 holes

Hovland emerged as Thomas’ closest challenger despite a couple of ragged holes on the back nine, the exciting young Norwegian opening with a pair of birdies and adding two more at each of the par-fives on the outward run before a wayward second to the 10th led to a dropped shot.

He bounced back with a birdie at 11 and, after driving the green at the 14th and two-putting for another gain, Hovland completed a clean sweep of par-five birdies at the 15th only to give one back when he found the rear bunker at 16 and was unable to complete the up-and-down.

Viktor Hovland is just two behind Viktor Hovland is just two behind

Viktor Hovland is just two behind

But Hovland again produced an immediate response when he flicked a wedge to a couple of feet at 17 for his eighth birdie of the day, and a battling par at the last completed a 66 which earned him the clubhouse lead until Thomas signed his card 10 minutes later.

Morikawa retained his overnight lead early on when he matched Thomas’ birdies at the fifth and sixth, but last month’s Charles Schwab Challenge runner-up missed a short putt for par at the ninth and found little in the way of short grass as he dropped further shots at 10 and 12.

He offset a birdie at 15 with another mistake on the penultimate hole, but he finished on a positive note with a 15-foot putt for birdie at the last which left him just three adrift of Thomas, with Sam Burns (70) and Kevin Streelman (71) back on 11 under.

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Ian Poulter is hoping his putter heats up for the final round of the Workday Charity Open, which he starts six behind the leader despite three sub-70 rounds.

Ian Poulter is hoping his putter heats up for the final round of the Workday Charity Open, which he starts six behind the leader despite three sub-70 rounds.

Ian Poulter remained within striking distance of the leader, although he will need something special over the final 18 holes after he carded a solid five-birdie 69 – his third straight sub-70 round – which got him to 10 under par alongside Rory Sabbatini and Kevin Streelman.

US Open champion Gary Woodland and fan-favourite Rickie Fowler both earned themselves a good lie-in on Sunday morning, both sauntering round in 66 to close on nine under par and inside the top 10.

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