1. The second-round leaders seemed to go a little quiet as clouds briefly rolled in at lunchtime Saturday. That allowed William McGirt to charge toward the top with a 7-under par 66 with his second straight bogey-free round. It brought McGirt to 14-under, tying him with Jimmy Walker and Ryan Moore for third place.
Since 2011, McGirt has played 175 Tour events. Last season earned his first win on the PGA Tour at the Memorial Tournament made the cut in all 28 of his tournaments. This season he has played two events, missing the cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and finishing T27 at the RSM Classic.
At of the conclusion of round three in Kapalua, McGirt was ranked first in greens in regulation, T1 in driving accuracy, T2 in bogey-avoidance, and third in shots gained- approach to the green. His solid play has “kind of surprised him,” he told the press post-round, “because I haven’t played much at all” since The Tour Championship. “Kind of had to make my own off-season, since we don’t get one anymore.”
2. Jordan Spieth called one his Friday tee shots “as bad a shot as I’ll hit this year.” Ryan Moore might have a similarly damning assessment of the way he played the par-5 ninth on Saturday. Through the first two rounds the hole was the second easiest on the Plantation course, playing to a 4.484 average. And Moore, who was co-leader when he arrived at nine, made one of the two Saturday bogeys there.
He’d missed the green with his second, coming up about 35 yards short left. He then misplayed his pitch shot so badly that the ball fed right back off the sloping green and finished just about the same distance from the cup as when it had started. On in four, Moore made a two-putt bogey from 16 feet.
Spieth, by the way, recorded Saturday’s lone eagle at nine.
3. Meanwhile, Moore’s playing partner, Justin Thomas, left the ninth green with choice things of his own to say, apparently: his right hand was pointedly cupped over his mouth as though to be certain of depriving viewers of a juicy lip-reading opportunity. Thomas’ annoyance would have stemmed from his taking three to get down with putter from 40 feet on the edge of the green’s front fringe.
4. In his post-round press conference, Thomas, whose longest drive so far this week is 404 yards, was asked if he understood the physics of the power in his swing.
“I have no clue,” he quickly admitted, before adding an insight into his choice of on-course footwear. “I’ve been told I use the ground well. The fact that I’m probably almost in the air when I make contact probably doesn’t hurt anything. Kind of why I wear metal spikes, because I need all the support I can get to not flip.”
5. Patrick Reed was tied for the lead as he made the turn Saturday, then faded to seventh with a 2-over 39 on the back. Tied for second in number of birdies this week (18), Reed is T17 when it comes to bogey-avoidance and a surprising 28th in shots gained/approach to green.
6. By noon Saturday the chatter in the media center was predicting a Sunday evening playoff.
It’s a pretty common scenario on the Tour, as the 32-man SBS Tournament of Champions field demonstrates: on hand this week thanks to playoff victories are: Aaron Baddeley (Barbasol Classic); Jason Dufner (CareerBuilder Challenge); Tony Finau (Puerto Rico Open); Fabian Gomez (Sony Open); James Hahn (Wells Fargo Championship); Mackenzie Hughes (RSM Classic); William McGirt (Memorial Tournament); and Brian Stuard (the rain-abbreviated Zurich Classic).
On the other hand, three in the field lost a playoff but won another event: Brandt Snedeker lost the Sony Open, won the Farmers Insurance Open; Si Woo Kim lost the Barbasol Classic, won the Wyndham Championship; and Ryan Moore lost the Tour Championship, won the John Deere Classic.
Hideki Matsuyama beat Rickie Fowler in a playoff at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but Matsuyama also won WGC-HSBC Champions and the Hero World Challenge.
Finally, three playoff victors chose not to participate this week with their fellow champions: Sergio Garcia, who beat Brooks Koepka at the AT&T Byron Nelson; Rory McIlroy, who won the Tour Championship in a playoff over Kevin Chappell and Ryan Moore; and Charl Schwartzel, who beat Bill Haas at the Valspar Championship.
7. Barbasol champ Baddeley struggled Saturday, posting the sole over-par round: a plus-one 74, which left him at 2-under and in 28th place. Going into Sunday, the entire field is in red numbers save for Billy Hurley III at even par.
8. Hideki Matsuyama is the hottest player on the planet, with four wins in his last five starts worldwide. His 7-under 66 on Saturday put him alone in second at 16-under and two shots behind Justin Thomas, and he’s been a favorite to win the SBS Tournament of Champions right from the get-go. But there’s a different sort of reason to think he’s on his way to the winner’s circle Sunday. He seems to tirelessly stalk the steep climbs of The Plantation Course like nobody else in the field. The 5-foot 11-inch and 200-pound fourth-year Tour pro, who turns 25 next month, has routinely been marching up and down these imposing fairways dozens of yards ahead of his playing partners, their caddies, and the rest of the entourage that accompanies each pairing.
So perhaps there’s an edge, in course-striding stamina, that may prove as telling for Matsuyama during the climbs of the final round as that singular ball-striking skill of his.
Matsuyama, incidentally, leads the field as of Saturday evening in number of birdies, with 19. He is also now a combined 59-under in his last 198 holes, and has shot in the 60s in each of his last 13 Tour rounds. And for good measure he was the last man out on the practice putting green as the Saturday sun set, working on his chipping.