Thomas a win­ner again, still a long road to­ward the top

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

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

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