JEJU ISLAND, Korea, Republic Of — Justin Thomas was looking at a three-stroke lead after three rounds at the CJ Cup with one hole to play Saturday, which would have set him up nicely for his second win in three years at South Korea’s only PGA Tour event.
But the 18th hole saw a big swing in the scoring at the Nine Bridges course.
South Korean-born New Zealander Danny Lee holed a long eagle putt to finish with a 68. Thomas, who won the inaugural CJ Cup in 2017, bogeyed the 18th for a 70 and he and Lee were tied with a three-round total of 15-under 201 after three rounds.
Australian Cameron Smith was in third place, three strokes behind, after a 68. Jordan Spieth shot 70 and was in a three-way tie for fourth, four behind.
"I played well, I just didn’t hit a lot of good putts that burned the edges and didn’t quite go in," Thomas said. "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."
Lee said he was pleased to play well before his family and fans.
"I’ve never played exceptionally well in Korea, so I also felt I could play better in front of my Korean fans. 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."
The biggest movers Saturday were last year’s runner-up Gary Woodland and first-year professional Colin Morikawa of the United States. Their 65s moved them into a tie for seventh place which included Ian Poulter (66) and Graeme McDowell (68).
Defending CJ Cup champion and top-ranked Brooks Koepka withdrew from the tournament before the third round after aggravating a left knee injury a day earlier when he slipped on wet concrete. J.B. Holmes also withdrew after the first nine holes of his third round with an unknown ailment.
Koepka, playing his second event since stem cell treatment on the knee Aug. 25, shot a 3-over 75 on Friday at Nine Bridges after opening with a 69. He was 13 strokes behind Thomas in the limited-field event with no cut.
"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 returned to Florida to meet with his doctors, leaving his status for the HSBC Champions in two weeks in China uncertain. He missed the cut two weeks ago in his season debut at Las Vegas.
The CJ Cup is the first of three PGA Tour events in Asia, continuing next week at the Zozo Championship in Japan — which will feature Tiger Woods — and ending with the World Golf Championship event in Shanghai.
Corey Conners of Listowel, Ont., was tied for 26th at 5 under.