Justin Thomas Secures Victory at SBS Tournament of Champions
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
JUSTIN THOMAS has much in common with Jordan Spieth. They are both 23, they were college teammates and, back then, Thomas was the better player.
Spieth's career hit the stratosphere in 2015 when he won The Masters and the US OPen and came within a whisker of also adding The Open and US PGA Championship, while Thomas has enjoyed more a slow-burn start to life on the PGA Tour. But now he is getting used to the winning habit and he became the first winner of 2017 by claiming the SBS Champions title at Kapalua.
With five holes to play, Thomas was five ahead and apparently cruising, but Hideki Matsuyama produced an astonishing finishing flourish to almost catch the American. The Japanese superstar holed a glorious flop shot from the rough on the 14th for eagle, and then Thomas hooked a four iron into the hazard on the par-five 15th and made double bogey. Matsuyama had a chance to tie him until narrowly missing a 10-foot birdie on the 16th. Thomas responded with a fabulous eight iron from 214 yards to three feet on the 17th.
Matsuyama, one shot behind and needing a birdie to stay in the game, ran his 30-foot putt about 8 feet by the hole and three-putted for bogey. Thomas knocked in his short putt for a three-shot lead, and he went on to make another birdie for a four-under 69 and a three-shot victory, his second of the season, and third in his career. His other two PGA TOUR titles were at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Thomas already has one claim to fame - he is the only player to beat Matsuyama during the past three months. In his past six tournaments, Matsuyama has had four victories and a pair of runner-up finishes - both to Thomas, in Kuala Lumpur and Kapalua.
Thomas, who finished at 22-under 270, is the first multiple winner on the PGA TOUR in a season that began last October. He moves to No12 in the world, and it surely won't be long before he hits the top 10.
"It changes things going forward because I know I'm coming back here next," Thomas said about the winners-only event along the rugged coast of Maui.
Jordan Spieth closed with a 65 to tie for third with Pat Perez (67) and Ryan Moore (71). Spieth and Jimmy Walker, came down to the 18th to congratulate the winner. Spieth, his best friend in golf since they were teenager, believes this is just the start for Thomas.
"I think it's potentially floodgates opening," Spieth said. "The guy hits it forever. He's got a really, really nifty short game. He manages the course well. He's playing the golf course the way it should be played, and honestly, he's taking advantage of the easier holes. It's awesome to see," Spieth said. "He's going to be tough to beat next week, too.”
Thomas started the final round with a two-shot lead and no one got closer until his mistake on the 15th. One of the longest hitters in on the PGA Tour, despite his slight build, he enjoyed a huge slice of luck at the ninth. He hit a duck-hook into knee-high grass and played a provisional, but his first ball was found and he was able to hack it back to the fairway, find the green with his next and narrowly missed his birdie putt at the par five.
He made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 13th for a five-shot lead and appeared to have the tournament in hand. But then Matsuyama answered with his flop shot for eagle. I stumbled more than I would have liked to do," Thomas said. "But it shows where my game is at right now. I had some woes there, but I stuck it out to still get it done.
“I feel so much more comfortable. I really do. Maybe the first time in Malaysia when I won, I was maybe kind of like, what am I doing here, but now it's like, okay, I belong here, I should be here.”
Matsuyama was left to rue not being able to catch Thomas. “Justin had a little trouble at 15 and then I was really in it. But my putter let me down there at 16, 17 and 18,” Matsuyama said. “I tipped my hat to Justin. He played well all day long. Had a little hiccup there at 15, but I just say congratulations to him. He deserved it.”
Matsuyama is now just 36 points ahead of Thomas in the season long FedEx Cup points race.
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