Justin Thomas just two shots off the lead entering Round 4 of PGA Championship

Justin Thomas 2017 PGA Championship Round 3 Rob Schumacher/USA TODAY Sports

Justin Thomas just two shots off the lead entering Round 4 of PGA Championship

PGA Tour

Justin Thomas just two shots off the lead entering Round 4 of PGA Championship

CHARLOTTE – Six tournament staffers, one police officer and a handful of fans looked on, a nearby leaf blower buzzing loudly as Justin Thomas hit balls on the driving range immediately after a third-round, 2-under 69 Saturday. 

The 24-year-old signed a few autographs after the brief and mostly-private session. Sunday at Quail Hollow, he’ll have the attention of the entire golf world as he looks to capture his first career major at the 99th PGA Championship.

“Obviously I was paying attention to the leaderboards, because they are pretty big and hard to miss,” Thomas said.

Thomas finished the day T-4 at 5 under, two shots behind outright leader Kevin Kisner. The Louisville, Ky. native didn’t have his A-game Saturday, beginning his round with a bogey at No. 1 and grinding out pars throughout the afternoon. In a way, that was sort of encouraging.

“That’s what Tiger (Woods) did so well,” Thomas said. “He won tournaments by five or six with his B or C game. It’s about managing it around here, trying to get it around. What I did (Saturday) was definitely a confidence boost. It’s not the same as playing great. I’m definitely more tired than if I would have played great, (but) I will definitely take it.”

Thomas didn’t have his best stuff on the final day of the U.S. Open at Erin Hills after vaulting into contention with a then record-tying major round of 63. He fell to T-9 after a final-round 75, still notching the best major finish of his career. And he only had to wait about two months for another seat at the high-stakes table. 

“I had a really bad break on Sunday on four (at the U.S. Open) and I think it flustered me a little bit,” Thomas said. “I just didn’t handle it very well. Hopefully it doesn’t happen (Sunday, but) I think I can handle it a little better.” 

Thomas looked like the only professional in his group over the last three holes, making three consecutive pars at the difficult closing stretch as Rickie Fowler and Paul Casey played it a combined 8 over. Thomas was 2 under on the back nine with birdies at 10 and 15 and a routine par at 18, which produced a scoring average of 4.6 Saturday and played as the most difficult hole. 

Not bad for a day in which Thomas described his game as closer to a C than a B.

 “I like to think that I’m mature now and I can manage an under-par round when I don’t have my best stuff,” Thomas said. “I think that’s why I feel like I’m ready to win a major championship now versus last year, (when) I probably didn’t have that. Because you are going to have a day, usually at least a day in the tournament where you don’t have your best. You are not hitting it well. It’s what you can do with it.”

Now he’s back in one of the final groups Sunday at a major, ready to receive the Wanamaker Trophy or another painful lesson.

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