Justin Thomas seemed to be on cruise control with a three-stroke lead in the third round of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges before he hit his approach shot far to the right and into the water on the par-5 18th hole.
Thomas, ranked fifth in the world, salvaged a bogey but Danny Lee of New Zealand (pictured) ran in a 50-foot eagle putt from off the green to tie him for the lead at Nine Bridges Golf Club www.ninebridges.co.kr/eng/ in Jeju Island, South Korea.
“I played well, I just didn’t hit a lot of good putts that burned the edges and didn’t quite go in,” said Thomas, who has won 10 times on the PGA Tour including the 2017 PGA Championship. “If a couple of those putts fall, I don’t make a bad bogey on 18 and the other two bogeys I made, I hit good putts, they just caught the edge and lipped out.
“Obviously Danny’s playing well, a lot of guys are playing well, so I need to go out and play well tomorrow. I just need to keep doing what I’ve done the last couple days and just get a little bit more out of it.”
Thomas, who won the inaugural CJ Cup in a playoff two years ago, took the lead this time with a 63 in round two, followed that with a 70 for a 54-hole total of 15-under 213.
Lee, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the 2015 Greenbrier Classic, overcame a double-bogey 6 on the 10th hole that was his only blemish in a 68 to catch Thomas atop the leaderboard.
“I’ve never played exceptionally well in Korea, so I also felt I could play better in front of my Korean fans,” said Lee, the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion. “On top of that my parents and my wife are Korean and my granddad lives here, so that would be great. I am glad I had a strong showing this week and hopefully I can say the same tomorrow.”
Cameron Smith of Australia eagled the 12th hole en route to a 68 and is three shots back in solo third, while Jordan Spieth, who bounced back from bogeys on the first two holes to shoot 70, is four behind in a tie for fourth with Wyndham Clark, who collected six birdies after an opening bogey in a 67.
First-round leader Byeong Hun An of South Korea, who played college golf at Cal, carded a triple-bogey and a double-bogey in a 73 to fall five back into solo sixth.
Reigning U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland and Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal both posted 65s and are five down in a tie for seventh with Ian Poulter of England (66), Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland (68), Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand (69), Tyrrell Hatton of England (70), Kevin Streelman (69) and Emiliano Grillo of Argentina (72).
Top-ranked Brooks Koepka, the defending CJ Cup champion, withdrew before the start of the third round after aggravating a left knee injury a day earlier when he slipped on wet concrete.
Koepka, playing his second event since stem cell treatment on the knee on Aug. 25, shot 75 in round two and was 13 strokes behind in a tie for 33rd.
“After consulting with my doctor, I have decided to withdraw from the CJ CUP and head home for further tests,” Koepka said in a statement. “I appreciate everyone’s concerns and support. I’ll keep you posted as I learn more.”
Koepka said he would return to Florida to meet with doctors, leaving his status for the HSBC Champions in two weeks in China and the Presidents Cup in Australia in December uncertain.
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