Justin Thomas Cruises to Victory at Firestone
WITH a perfect sense of timing, Justin Thomas shot a final round of 69 to win the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone by four strokes. By his own standards, Thomas has endured a miserable run of form of late, including a missed cut at The Open, but with the defence of his US PGA title beginning at Bellerive on Thursday, he picked the right moment to rediscover his very best golf.
He began the day on 14 under par, leading Rory McIlroy by three shots. To have any chance of catching the American, McIlroy needed a fast start. He birdied the second hole but then dropped shots at the fifth, eighth, ninth and 10th and his challenge was over. By the time he birdied the 16th hole he had fallen all the way back to eight under par and was seven adrift of Thomas, his playing partner, and in a tie for sixth place.
The big move of the day came from world no 1 Dustin Johnson, who birdied his first four holes and then picked up another two to reach the turn in 29. He was six under for the day and 10 under for the tournament and he improved still further with another birdie at the 10th, but then came seven straight pars and he dropped a shot at the last for a round of 64. Denmark’s Thorbjorn Olesen finished on the same total after also taking 64. Unlike Johnson, the Dane made his score on the back nine, which he covered in 31 strokes.
As McIlroy faltered, Kyle Stanley found himself finishing the week in second place after shooting a 68 for an 11-under-par total of 269.
But nobody ever really threatened Thomas, whose progress over the final 36 holes was serene. He dropped a shot at the sixth, but birdies at the second and 13th were good enough to extend his lead to four shots as he moved to 15 under par. He eventually signed for a 69.
“That birdie at the 13th was huge,” Thomas said. “I take a lot of pride in how I played today. I was very nervous going into today. I think that you kind of get that two, three, four shot lead, it's just different than one.
“With a three shot lead you kind of have a little bit of wiggle room and you feel like you maybe play a little too conservative, but I was able to kind of dwell on past learning experiences and you always try to get it higher. I was trying to get it to 18 under because I knew if I got to that, I didn't really think anybody could catch me.
“I played well enough to do that, I just didn't really make any putts today, but I just kept hitting green after green. And if I hit missed the fairway, I was putting it on the correct side of the rough so I was able to have an angle into the green. We just kind of plotted our day around.”
Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner here, started the week in brilliant fashion and was in contention after 36 holes, but he finished with two rounds of 73 in what ultimately was a week to forget. He ended on 280, level par, and in a tie for 31st place, which was not at all what he had in mind when he set out on Thursday. He missed too many fairways and will know that this is something he needs to address before getting to Bellerive, where he will bid to win that elusive 15th major.
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