Thomas far from certain to finish the job in windy Korea
FedEx Cup champion an unappealing price
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Justin Thomas opened up with a nine-under-par 63 in the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges, Korea, and the American raider remains on the same score two rounds later.
A 74 and a 70 have followed for Thomas, who started the week as 8-1 favourite, but that has been enough to keep him atop the leaderboard. The FedEx Cup champion is tied for the lead with 150-1 outsider Scott Brown.
Thomas is a best-price 5-4 to convert his lofty position into CJ Cup glory, while Brown, whose only US Tour success came in the 2013 Puerto Rico Open, is a general 6-1.
Presidents Cup teammates Anirban Lahiri and Marc Leishman are tied for third place, two shots behind, while Korean Whee Kim has thrilled the home fans by claiming a share of fifth spot with 18 holes to play.
-9 Justin Thomas, Scott Brown
-7 Anirban Lahiri, Marc Leishman
-6 Whee Kim, Cameron Smith, Lucas Glover
-5 Byeong Hun An, Luke List
5-4 J Thomas, 6 S Brown, 13-2 M Leishman, 10 A Lahiri, 16 C Smith, 20 L Glover, 28 W Kim, 33 B H An, 40 L List, 50 bar
Justin Thomas described his Thursday brilliance as the result of going “unconscious”, a spell of instinctive golf where his mind was inactive, but the old grey matter has certainly played a part over the subsequent two days.
After 36 holes of struggle followed his opening 63, Thomas said he had found it “hard not to go mad”, explaining how difficult he has been finding the Nine Bridges greens. The favourite seems to have become unsettled by the course. Mentally he does not appear at the races, which is understandable after a long and glorious year.
Thomas stayed on in Asia after defending his CIMB Classic title in Malaysia last week, and he is skipping next week's WGC-HSBC Champions because he is eager to get home. He clearly considers three weeks on the other side of the world too much, and a fortnight may be stretching him, too. This is an elite player who has done more than enough this year to deserve a long holiday, and the last two rounds indicate his focus is wandering forward to that.
The greatest moment in the humble career of Scott Brown came on the island of Puerto Rico. Is a second triumph coming on Jeju Island? Possibly, but the 34-year-old journeyman is well of short of top-class and holds no appeal at skinny prices.
The top two ante-post selections of Racing Post Sport are still very much in contention. Backers of Anirban Lahiri, 50-1 in a place on Wednesday, has been oozing tee-to-green control, and pre-tournament 45-1 chance Cameron Smith is only three shots off the pace.
Smith was hugely unfortunate on the final hole of round three, his ball pitching low down the flagstick after a magnificent approach shot and ricocheting 20 feet from the cup. He three-putted from there, a closing bogey making his Sunday task much tougher.
Smith is a good wind player, though, and will be encouraged by the final-round forecast for Jeju Island. A significant breeze is set to test the field. Marc Leishman and Lucas Glover are also adept wind operators, but Glover's fragile putting stroke probably rules him out of calculations. Thomas likes to hit his iron-shots high.
Lahiri, Smith and Leishman can all have high hopes of taking a winning chance down the closing stretch. The 13-2 Leishman is a more than fair price for punters who are on Lahiri and Smith and are eager to add a third string to their bow. Thomas is an unappealing price.
Final-round threeball punters are pointed towards Seung-yul Noh in the 11.25pm (UK and Ireland time) match. While other players may be lacking enthusiasm on a windy day when they are tailed off on the leaderboard, Noh seems certain to be putting in 100 percent effort. That is because this could be his final round of golf for two years.
Reports suggest Noh will be taking his two years of compulsory national military service for South Korea after this tournament, so he will be eager to sign off in style. He made a rusty start to the week, opening with 79 after being handed a late invitation to the event, but followed up with a 65 once he had rediscovered his swing.
Noh has the extra motivation of teeing up alongside his hero KJ Choi in the final round. Noh can outscore fading force Choi and a lacklustre Charl Schwartzel before heading off to become a soldier. The final threeball of Thomas, Brown and Lahiri are due on the tee at 1.15am UK and Ireland time.
1pt 13-8 general