Thomas holds on to win at Kapalua

Albuquerque Journal - - NFL - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Justin Thomas had to sweat it out more than he wanted to en­joy that view down the 18th hole at Kapalua on Sunday.

Thomas had a five-shot lead with five holes to play when he was caught in a bat­tle with Hideki Mat­suyama down the stretch in the SBS Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons. Thomas re­sponded with a defin­ing shot in his young ca­reer, an 8-iron ap­proach he ripped from 214 yards to 3 feet on the 17th.

Mat­suyama, one shot be­hind and need­ing birdie to stay in the game, ran his 30-foot putt about 8 feet by the hole and three-putted for bo­gey. Thomas knocked in his short putt for a three­shot lead, and he went on to an­other birdie for a 4-un­der 69 and a three-shot vic­tory.

Thomas won for the sec­ond time this sea­son, and third time in his ca­reer. His other two PGA Tour ti­tles were at the CIMB Clas­sic in Malaysia.

Mat­suyama holed a tough flop shot on the 14th for ea­gle, and then Thomas hooked a 4-iron into the haz­ard on the par-5 15th and made dou­ble bo­gey. Mat­suyama had a chance to tie him un­til nar­rowly miss­ing a 10-foot birdie on the 16th. The 24-year-old from Ja­pan closed with a 70.

Thomas is the only player to beat Mat­suyama over the last three months. In his last six tour­na­ments world­wide, Mat­suyama had four vic­to­ries and a pair of run­ner-up fin­ishes — both to Thomas, in Kuala Lumpur and Kapalua.

Thomas, who fin­ished at 22-un­der 270, is the first mul­ti­ple win­ner on the PGA Tour in a sea­son that be­gan last Oc­to­ber. He moves to No. 12 in the world, a big vic­tory that squarely moves him into the con­ver­sa­tion of a grow­ing list of young stars in golf.

“It changes things go­ing for­ward be­cause I know I’m com­ing back here,” Thomas said about the win­ners-only event along the rugged coast of Maui.

The scenery down the 18th to­ward the blue Pa­cific was never more spec­tac­u­lar for Thomas, along with the site of his par­ents off the 18th green who saw him win for the first time. His fa­ther, Mike Thomas, is a long­time head pro in Har­mony Land­ing in Ken­tucky who is still his coach.

Jor­dan Spi­eth closed with a 65 to tie for third with Pat Perez (67) and Ryan Moore (71). Spi­eth and Jimmy Walker came down to the 18th to con­grat­u­late the win­ner.

Thomas started the fi­nal round with a two-shot lead and no one got closer un­til his blunder on the 15th.

With the wind stiff and in his face, he got quick with his driver and hit a snap-hook into the knee-high weeds left of the fair­way. He hit a pro­vi­sional for a lost ball and was about ready to aban­don the search when a TV spot­ter was sum­moned to give an in­di­ca­tion where it went. They found the ball, and it was sit­ting up a few inches above the roots, al­low­ing Thomas to at least hack out into the fair­way.

He fol­lowed with a 3-wood onto the green for a two-putt par after start­ing with a shot that made dou­ble bo­gey ap­pear likely.

Thomas made a 10-foot birdie putt on the 13th for a five-shot lead and ap­peared to have the tour­na­ment in hand. But then Mat­suyama an­swered with his flop shot for ea­gle. Thomas, haunted by poor shots on the 15th hole the pre­vi­ous two rounds, picked the wrong time to try to atone for it.

He had left an 8-iron well out to the right, be­low the el­e­vated green. This time, with a strong wind out of the left, he over­com­pen­sated with a 4-iron and went into the haz­ard. After a penalty drop, he failed to reach the green, chipped up to 8 feet and missed to walk off with dou­ble bo­gey.

“I stum­bled more than I would have liked to do,” Thomas said. “But it shows where my game is at right now. I had some woes there, but I stuck it out to still get it done.”

Spi­eth, his best friend in golf since they were teenagers, ex­pected this to be just the start for Thomas.

“I think it’s po­ten­tially flood­gates open­ing,” Spi­eth said. “The guy hits it for­ever. He’s got a re­ally, re­ally nifty short game. He man­ages the course well. He’s play­ing the golf course the way it should be played, and hon­estly, he’s tak­ing ad­van­tage of the eas­ier holes.

“It’s awe­some to see,” Spi­eth said. “He’s go­ing to be tough to beat next week, too.”

Justin Thomas

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