In-form champion in search of hat-trick

Thomas will be chas­ing a third straight vic­tory at the CIMB Clas­sic

The Star Malaysia - - Sport -

AF­TER win­ning his first PGA Tour ti­tle at the 2015 CIMB Clas­sic, Justin Thomas’ ca­reer has sky­rock­eted.

Fol­low­ing his ca­reer break­through in Malaysia at the CIMB Clas­sic 2015, the 24-year-old Amer­i­can has won five more tour­na­ments, in­clud­ing a maiden Ma­jor ti­tle at the PGA Cham­pi­onship last month.

Thomas also shot the mag­i­cal 59 in Hawaii ear­lier this year and joined an ex­clu­sive club of play­ers un­der-25 that in­cludes Jack Nick­laus, Tiger Woods and Jor­dan Spi­eth to win five or more times dur­ing a sea­son. Not sur­pris­ingly he’s risen to world No. 4.

The fol­low­ing are ex­cerpts of an in­ter­view with Thomas, who will re­turn to Kuala Lumpur next month in search of a third straight ti­tle on the PGA Tour.

How much of last year’s CIMB Clas­sic do you re­call?

It was awe­some. It was ob­vi­ously spe­cial be­ing able to go back to de­fend last year. Hav­ing won my first PGA Tour ti­tle in Malaysia, it’s got a spe­cial place in my heart. To go back-to-back last year was awe­some. It def­i­nitely got my 2016-17 sea­son off to a good start.

What is it about TPC Kuala Lumpur that seems to fit your game?

I some­how have a com­fort­ing feel­ing out there and I seem to do all right. The scores are re­ally low over there. There’s not very much wind and I think why I played so well over there is be­cause I have a lot of wedges and I feel that my wedge game is good. That’s why I’m able to make so many birdies be­cause I can roughly get a few kick-ins per day and it just seems

to be a place where I play well. How im­por­tant is it for young play­ers on the PGA Tour to come out and take up these play­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties?

I think if you have the op­por­tu­nity, you can take ad­van­tage of it. I don’t think any young guys are turn­ing down op­por­tu­ni­ties to play. It’s just the fact of be­ing able to qual­ify for the tour­na­ments and be­ing able to play in them. If they can, they all will play. It’s pretty un­be­liev­able where this game takes us.

Why has Malaysia been such a good fit for you, and what would it mean to you to think that you could win it three times in a row?

It’s great. I think the big thing is, it’s a lot of wedges and I feel that I have a re­ally good wedge game. And the greens don’t spin a lot, so the ball kind of ... it’s go­ing to stay around where it lands.

I feel that what I need to get bet­ter at is spin con­trol. I’m so en­vi­ous of how Strick (Steve Stricker) hits his wedges. As soon as they land, they will roll a cou­ple inches and some­times they will spin back. It’s al­ways in kind of a two-foot ra­dius of his ball. For me, some­times I’ll hit one and it will kind of rip back or what­ever but there (at TPC Kuala Lumpur), the ball just seems to, I don’t know, whether it’s the grass or what, but it kind of stays around where it lands. I feel like I’m go­ing to hit my num­ber within a cou­ple of yards, about ev­ery time. I seem to putt pretty well over there too.

Will it have spe­cial mean­ing if you can win it three times at the CIMB Clas­sic and is it some­thing you look back on, that first win?

Yeah, and the way I did it is even more spe­cial. It’s some­thing I al­ways look back on -- it’s some­thing I looked back on in the PGA (Cham­pi­onship) and some­thing I looked back on in Hawaii. I’ll al­ways be able to trace back to that first win (at the CIMB Clas­sic in 2015) be­cause I had so many dif­fer­ent things hap­pen that day, be­tween get­ting off to a slow start and then kind of hav­ing a hot cou­ple of holes in the mid­dle of the round and then dump­ing it in the wa­ter on 14 and then birdieing 15, 16, 17. I feel like I had it all hap­pen. I feel like I have been able to, and I will be able to con­tinue to use that round to my ben­e­fit.

Thomas has won five times this sea­son and is in ex­cel­lent form at the mo­ment.

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