Thomas a winner again, still a long road toward the top
Winning a PGA Tour event for the second straight year, especially the manner in which Justin Thomas rallied in Malaysia, made it easy to assume that a player of his polish and power could be on the verge of breaking through to the next level.
Consider the last two weeks.
Thomas began the new season with birdies on his last two holes to make the cut on the number at the Safeway Open, and two days later he was on the cusp of contention. His amazing run ended when he missed three straight birdie chances inside 6 feet to start the back nine, and he settled for a 66-67 weekend to tie for eighth. Last week in the CIMB Classic, after seemingly shooting himself out of the tournament at 4 over through 13 holes in the third round, Thomas finished with five straight birdies to salvage a 71, and then closed with a 64 to win by three shots. Leave it to the 23-year-old Thomas to find some self-deprecating perspective amid rising expectations.
“If you look at it, I had a better start last year,” Thomas said Tuesday during a light day of work at the HSBC Champions. “Last year, I had a third and then a first. This year, I was eighth and first. So I’m slumping.” That only suggests Thomas is not about to get carried away. The season is two tournaments old, and he still has much to prove.
After he won in Malaysia last year for his first PGA Tour victory, Thomas never showed up on a leaderboard on the weekend until the Florida swing. Two of his best finishes came from brilliant closing rounds a 65 at The Players Championship and a 62 at the Travelers Championship.
So while he finished at No. 11 on the money list with just over $4 million, and he was invited to Hazeltine for a practice round on the weekend before Davis Love III made his final captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup, his satisfaction went only so far. “I really don’t think I had that good of a year,” Thomas said. “I won. And I had some good finishes. But the consistency was not there.”
Thomas doesn’t like saying that he is expecting more out of his game this year because that would suggest his expectations were ever any lower. He feels his game is better, his head is a year wiser. He is learning.
“I’m excited for what this year brings,” he said. That doesn’t make it easier. The PGA Tour is loaded with promising players from his age group. Thomas is part of the high school graduating class of 2011 which has produced three of the last four players to win rookie of the year - Emiliano Grillo, Daniel Berger and Jordan Spieth.
Ahead of him in age are the likes of Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson. Thomas believes his game is good enough to stack up with them, and he should. — AP
KUALA LUMPUR: Justin Thomas of the United States follows his shot on the first hole during the final round of the CIMB Classic golf tournament at Tournament Players Club (TPC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. — AP