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No Doubting Thomas as Medinah Wins Puts Him in Driving Seat

By: | Mon 19 Aug 2019 | Comments

JUSTIN THOMAS secured his 10th PGA Tour title - and his first of 2019 - with a final round of 68 at the BMW Championship at Medinah. It meant that the American, who smashed the course record in the third round with a 61, finished the week on on 25 under par. He beat Patrick Cantlay, his nearest rival, by three shots, while Japan's Hideki Matsuyama shot his second 63 of the week to finish two further back.

Thomas has has had a season that was ruined by a wrist injury and has struggled to find his best form. He has also battled to put together four good rounds. But he put that right at Medinah in some style. This was the second of the FedEx Cup Playoff events, and the leading 30 players move to East Lake for the season-ending Tour Championship, with Thomas now sitting on top of the points list. The winner of the FedEx Cup will collect a bonus cheque for $15m. Not bad work if you can get it.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for Thomas, who began the day with a six-shot lead. When Cantlay produced his fourth consecutive birdie at the par-five 10th while Thomas bogeyed the hole after an errant second shot with a three-wood, the lead was reduced to just two shots. But that’s when Thomas moved up a gear. “If I have a two-shot lead with eight holes left,” he said, “I feel confident I can pull it off.”

He responded at the par-four 11th by hitting an approach shot from 106 yards to three feet for a birdie. An errant drive on the next hole was not what he wanted but he saved par by draining a 15-footer. Then, after Cantlay rolled in a birdie putt at the par-three 13th from 15 feet, Thomas responded with his own birdie from inside 12 feet. They matched birdies again at the par-four 15th, before Cantlay dropped a shot at the 16th.  With a four-shot lead and two to play, it was game over.

“I needed to make any of the putts on 12, 14 or 15 if I really wanted to get some momentum on my side,” Cantlay said. “Seemed like him saving par on 12 was big. Then obviously I tried to get one back on 13, and then he made it on top of me. He just played really well. It was going to be hard for me to get to 25 under anyway.”

Thomas finished the week just three shots off the tournament scoring record. “It’s always easy when things are going well,” Thomas said. “When your back is up against the wall or when you get pressured or put a little heat on you, I think how you respond is sometimes a little bit better or show a little bit more.”

After winning the BMW Championship, Thomas now moves to No. 1 in FedEx Cup points. Under the new Starting Strokes format that will be used at the Tour Championship, Thomas will start the tournament at 10 under, two strokes ahead of Cantlay, three ahead of No. 3 Brooks Koepka, and so on, with the back end of the field 10 shots behind. Is that clear? Hmmm….basically, it means that if Thomas finishes ahead of those two and has a half-decent week, it is difficult to see how anybody can dislodge him.

Rory McIlroy starts at East Lake five shots behind Thomas, so needs to better his score by six, while also ensuring that he keeps ahead of Cantlay and Koepka. The PGA Tour are to be commended for fiddling with the format. Whether or not they have got it right remains to be seen.

Among the most notable absentees at East Lake will be Tiger Woods, the defending champion. He finished on seven under par.

In order to qualify, Woods - who has struggled with injury and form since claiming his 15th major at The Masters in April - needed to finish 11th or higher at Medinah, but was tied for 37th after a closing 72. "Last year culminated in a pretty special moment for me and it would've been nice to go back there," Woods said. "But I'll be watching the guys on TV."

Thomas now leads the points standings after a 10th PGA Tour victory that was secured thanks to four birdies on the back nine. England's Tommy Fleetwood was tied for 11th on 13 under with Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy two shots further back.

Phil Mickelson nearly missed his tee time after lightning set fire to the roof of his hotel. The American had been evacuated from his hotel, but managed to retrieve his clubs from his room in time and eventually carded a 71 that left him at five under. "Kind of a funny deal," he said after his round. "There were 10 fire trucks. I got in my car and left and couldn't get back. The roads were closed and the hotel was closed. But things cleared up pretty quickly. I was able to get back in and get my stuff. It all worked out great - except my score."

European Tour

IT’S been a long time coming, but Thomas Pieters finally won his fourth European Tour title as won the Czech Masters at Albatross Golf Resort, ending a three-year drought. The Belgian, who secured his maiden win at the Prague venue in 2015, became the first man to win this event twice courtesy of a 69 which contained five birdies and two bogeys.

Pieters was thrilled to return to the winner's circle. He said: "I'm relieved. It's been a long time - it's been three years since I last won. It feels good to win again. I never doubted myself but it's just been a long road of not feeling that great with the golf swing. It feels good to get back on track again and get another win.

"It's difficult when everybody says you should be winning two or three times a year. It's always nice to hear that but it's almost a negative sometimes because I always felt like I was underachieving but hopefully there's many more like this.  I felt like I was in control today, almost the whole day and I kind of did my own thing."

Pieters led from start to finish on Sunday, with four birdies on the front nine keeping the chasing pack at bay. The winning margin could have been even greater, with Pieters narrowly missing a number of birdie chances early in his fourth round, but he also produced some wonderful par saves on the back nine.

Pieters' playing partner Adri Arnaus finished alone in second place on 18 under par after carding an eagle, four birdies and three bogeys in his closing 69. Andrea Pavan made a brilliant defence, a final round of 65 securing a share of third place on 16 under par with Sam Horsfield.

Beginning the day with a one-shot lead, Pieters extended his advantage at the first. He parred the second and third as the wind began to blow and had to settle for further pars at the fourth and fifth despite giving himself decent birdie opportunities. Pieters finally made one of his chances count as he rolled in his birdie effort from ten feet at the sixth to move to 18 under. He then sent his tee shot at the short seventh to inside 12 feet before knocking in for a second consecutive birdie.

A missed par putt from three feet on the eighth green was the only blemish on the front front nine and, as the leader returned to 18 under, defending champion Pavan knocked in his short putt at the 15th to card his eighth birdie of the day and cut the gap to one. Pieters closed his front nine with a birdie at the long ninth to head into the back nine with a two shot lead. When Pavan made his first bogey of the day at the 17th, Pieters' lead was stretched to three shots and the Belgian tapped in his birdie putt from 18 inches at the long 12th to get to 20 under and move four clear.

Pieters produced a magnificent par save from 12 feet on the 13th before getting up and down from a tricky spot at the next. The leader chose to take a drop at the 15th after launching his tee shot into the heavy rough but lifted his approach shot to within ten feet before coolly knocking in the putt for an unlikely par. Pieters dropped his second shot of the day at the 16th after his long birdie putt sailed past the hole, leaving him a tricky ten footer back up the hill.

Arnaus, from Spain, knocked his tee shot to within a couple of feet at the short 16th before rolling in for a birdie to close the gap to Pieters to two shots. But Pieters finished his round with back to back pars to secure European Tour title number four.

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