Justin Thomas Produces Brilliant Display to Triumph at Sawgrass
THERE wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Justin Thomas completed an emotional victory at The Players Championship and fought back the tears as he dedicated the victory to his grandfather Paul, who recently passed away.
Thomas was close to Paul and has struggled since his death but he produced a brilliant display over the weekend, finishing with a 68 to pip 54-hole leader Lee Westwood by a shot.
Thomas’ father Mike was asked afterwards what Paul would have said about his grandson's performance.. “He would have just said, ‘Good round, bub,’” Mike said. Paul Thomas died aged 89 last month. He spent his life teaching the game in Ohio.
While most of the field succumbed to the pressure and the unique challenges presented by TPC Sawgrass, Thomas found inspiration when he played the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th holes in five under par. That run included an eagle at the par-five 11th as he reeled in Westwood. He then parred his way in to secure his 14th PGA Tour victory. Brian Harman (69) and Bryson DeChambeau (71) tied for third, two back.
It is only five weeks since Mike Thomas told his son the night before the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open that Paul had died. Justin played the next day, carding a 72 for a T13 finish. He said he knew he had to play, but admitted that he couldn’t focus. It was the hardest round of golf he’s ever played.
Two weeks later, after Thomas missed the cut at The Genesis Invitational and then found out that Tiger Woods, a close friend and his Presidents Cup partner, had been seriously injured in a car crash in Los Angeles.
Thomas was not in a good place. “I kept telling everyone on my team or my family I'm ready for something good to happen this year,” he said.
The fourth hole was pivotal. DeChambeau topped his drive 143 yards into the lake. Westwood sliced his tee shot way right, his ball finding the same pond.
Westwood made bogey, DeChambeau double-bogey. Seven days earlier, DeChambeau and Westwood had slugged it out at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Westwood gave it his best shot but had to give second best to DeChambeau. At least he had the consolation this time of finishing ahead of the big-hitting American.
At this stage Corey Conners was six under through 14 and two back. He would eventually sign for a 66 and a tie for seventh. So were Sergio Garcia (72, T9), the 2008 champion, and Thomas.
It was anybody’s tournament, but then Thomas struck a glorious five iron to the par-five ninth hole. It left him an easy two-putt birdie.
He birdied the 10th, and eagled the 11th, his four iron second shot stopping some 19 feet behind the flag. He went over the green at the reachable par-four 12th hole and nearly chipped it in.
He missed a kick-in par putt on 14, which Westwood later birdied, but got his nose ahead again with another two-putt birdie at the par-five 16th hole. Westwood failed to match, and Thomas finished with two pars, despite nearly finding the water at the 18th.
It was good enough. “I thought about my grandfather this morning,” he said. “I think about him every day but thought about him this morning and then when I saw my dad walking up 18. That was the first time during or since I teed off on one when I really thought about him.”
Westwood’s second successive runner-up finish takes him to 19th in the world rankings. For a 47-year-old whose career seemed to be dead and buried 15 months ago, it is turning out to be quite an Indian summer.
WHEN Antoine Rozner stood over his 60-foot putt on the final green his only thought was to take two putts to make a playoff with Italy’s Guido Migliozzi at the Qatar Masters. Instead, he brought the house down by holing what may well have been the longest putt ever holed to win a European Tour event.
It was a blow to the star plexus for Migliozzi, who was preparing for a playoff after a magnificent 65 at the Education City Golf Club in Doha.
Rozner had faced a tough task to get down in two from long range after his approach came up short.
It looked like he struck the final putt too hard but it broke left down the hill over the second half of its long journey, hit the pin and dropped into the hole for his fifth birdie of the final day and a moment he will treasure for the rest of his life.
His magnificent finish gave him a 67 and took him to eight under par, one ahead of Migliozzi, who eventually had to settle for a share of second place when overnight leader Darren Fichardt (71) and Gaganjeet Bhullar (69) both birdied the final hole.
Rozner, who landed his maiden European Tour title at the Golf in Dubai Championship in December, was three at the start of the day but fought his way into contention with three straight birdies from the fifth before giving one back at the eighth.
He then reeled off nine pars while Migliozzi was making his move to the top of the leaderboard, following an outward 32 with birdies at the 11th and 16th, and two pars completed a bogey-free round and set the clubhouse target at seven under par.
Fichardt's hopes were dashed by three bogeys in five holes around the turn, leaving Rozner as the biggest threat to Migliozzi's bid for a third victory, and his first since the Belgian Knockout in 2019.
"It's unreal," said Rozner, who has played in only 29 European Tour events, making his second win the fastest ever for a Frenchman. "In my biggest dreams I couldn't imagine anything like this happening. It's probably the biggest putt of my career - amazing.
"It's so early in my career, only my second year on tour. I'm playing great so I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, playing the way I've been playing the last two years and I'm excited to see what the future holds for me. It's very promising."
Former Ryder Cup star Jamie Donaldson got to five-under after back-to-back birdies at six and seven, but the Welshman could not build on his run and parred the final 11 holes for a 70 and a share of fifth with England's Richard McEvoy, who mixed six birdies with three bogeys in a 68.
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