Justin Thomas vaults into Players contention after two rough months

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Justin Thomas has spent the better part of the past two months fighting.

The 27-year-old has been fighting his game, which hasn’t resembled his No. 3 world ranking of late.

And he has been fighting to restore his reputation, after getting hammered on social media following the homophobic slur he muttered to himself after missing a short putt at the Sony Open in January that happened to be picked up by a TV boom microphone.

On a sun-splashed Saturday at TPC Sawgrass for the third round of the Players Championship, Thomas set himself up to change the conversation on both narratives by posting a tournament-low 8-under 64 to get to 10-under.

The moving-day round vaulted Thomas up the leaderboard to a tie for third place, three shots behind leader Lee Westwood.

Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas
EPA

“Golf is so fun when you’re playing well and when things are going well [and] it’s really easy,’’ Thomas said. “But this game isn’t like that, unfortunately. I’ve had definitely my fair share of lows this season … just a lot of stuff going on mentally that I felt like I’ve never had to deal with and maybe taking things for granted or just not enjoying the game.

“Being irritable, being frustrated, emotional on the golf course is not good for me. Good golf and fun, unfortunately and fortunately, works together for the most part. I wish my mood and emotions weren’t so dependent on my golf, but golf is my life and it is my job and I care a lot about it and I care a lot about how I play. So, it unfortunately does make and break my mood.

“I’m trying to get better. I mean, I’m growing up a little bit, but at the same time it means a lot to me and playing well and winning tournaments means a lot as well.’’

Thomas, who birdied the first four holes of his round, eagled the par-5 16th hole, which was the turning point of his entire tournament during Friday’s second round.

Thomas was hovering precariously on the cutline, at even-par, when he arrived at the 16th hole Friday. He scrambled for a birdie, then followed that with a birdie on 18 to get to 2-under for the week and set the stage for a weekend run.

“I told myself I thought 10-under had a pretty good chance to win the tournament going into this weekend,’’ Thomas said. “You know where the pins are going to be, and the greens are going to get a little bit more baked out. It’s going to be a little windier, and it’s a Sunday of a Players. It’s a huge event and nerves are going to be there. So, I knew that [Saturday] was important.’’

Thomas, who has 13 career PGA Tour victories and won three times last year, badly wants to add a Players Championship title to his résumé.

“There’s such an array and deep list of champions at this tournament,’’ Thomas said. “It’s a tournament I’d like to be a champion of. I feel like I will win it, hopefully multiple times. I get excited every time I come here.’’

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