Justin Thomas sets course record to take big BMW Championship lead after Round 3

I don't know if Justin Thomas' best stuff is the best stuff in golf, but it might be the most exciting. We got the full J.T. Experience on Saturday at Medinah Country Club in the third round of the BMW Championship as Thomas shot a 11-under 61 that included a two 2s in his last three holes.

But let's start at the very beginning. Thomas, playing in the second-to-last pairing and in fourth place to start the day, began his round like this.

  • Hole No. 1: 13-foot birdie
  • Hole No. 2: 13-foot birdie
  • Hole No. 3: 2-foot birdie
  • Hole No. 4: 15-foot birdie
  • Hole No. 5: 2 foot birdie

Five holes, five putts, five birdies, and we're off to the races. He bogeyed the sixth and birdied the eighth for a very-on-brand 31 on the front that included just two pars. All of this while hitting just four fairways (this would be a theme of his day). 

Thomas eagled his first hole on the back nine with an absurd 5-wood to get it to 7 under on the day before uncharacteristically running off three consecutive pars. It was a good round that -- even with Medinah playing super easy -- was putting distance between him as the leader of the tournament and the rest of the field.

Then it got wild at the end. Thomas hit a ball in the water on No. 15 as he went for the green off the short, 307-yard par 4 off the tee. He saved a par there, and then holed out from 180 yards on the par-4 16th. Again, at this point in his round, he'd hit just seven of 13 fairways and was somehow 10 under through 16 holes! Every time I looked up, Thomas was pounding a drive off a tree or asking for something to get to the other side of some trouble so he'd have a clear shot to a green.

Another 2 at the par-3 17th, and all he needed for a 59 (with a bogey) was a subsequent hole out at the 18th. Alas, it didn't come, and he settled for a par and the 61. The entire thing was a thrill ride around Medinah though as Thomas lost strokes with his driver, but gained over six on his approach shots. 

"It's just one of those freaky days when you get in the zone," Thomas told Golf Channel. "I hit the ball pretty unbelievable. It's not like I made any long putts. I hit it close to the hole and took advantage of some opportunities when I had them and got a couple good breaks. That's the stuff that happens when you shoot 11 under."

It's worth repeating here: Justin Thomas was worse than field average off the tee on Saturday and still shot a 61! His accuracy with an iron in his hand was remarkable. A good round of approach shots is in the low 20s when it comes to average distance to the pin (in feet). Thomas averaged 15 feet, 9 inches.

To put into perspective what Thomas did in four hours at Medinah, let's look at third-round leader Hideki Matsuyama. He went from two up on Thomas at the first hole to 10 down walking to the 18th. Life comes at you fast. 

Thomas' 61 broke the all-time course record at Medinah and gives him a monstrous six-stroke lead over playing partner Tony Finau going into the final round. If things hold like they are right now, Thomas will also be No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings going into next week's Tour Championship and looking for his second FedEx Cup in the last three years. 

"I'm just trying to get the lead to seven as fast as I can," Thomas told Golf Channel. "And if I get it to seven, get it to eight. I'm trying to win by as many as I possibly can."

So while Sunday may be a boring slog to the finish for Thomas, Saturday was the opposite. Round 3 got a jolt following a weather delay from one of the handful of golfers capable of giving it a jolt. Thomas won the 2019 BMW Championship with a 61 in Round 3, and Sunday will merely be a formality to make it official.

CBS Sports Writer

Kyle Porter began his sports writing career with CBS Sports in 2012. He covers golf, writes poetry about Rory McIlroy's swing, stays ready on Tiger watch and loves the Masters more than anyone you know.... Full Bio

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