Wow fac­tor on Oahu

Thomas joins 59 club at Sony Open

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - SPORTS -

HONOLULU — Star­ing over the top of a bunker on his fi­nal hole, the pru­dent play for Justin Thomas might have been to make sure he got out of the sand and avoided a big num­ber.

But then, Thomas didn’t care about a big num­ber. It was about golf’s magic num­ber. “This isn’t a time for me to lay it up,” Thomas said Thurs­day at the Sony Open.

He hit a 5-iron so clean and so high that it car­ried 207 yards into a light Pa­cific breeze to 15 feet on the par-5 ninth hole at Wa­ialae Coun­try Club. Thomas poured in the ea­gle putt for an 11-un­der 59, be­com­ing the sev­enth player to post a sub60 round in PGA Tour his­tory.

For a brief mo­ment, he re­acted as if it were lit­tle more than the per­fect fin­ish to a great open­ing round. He stretched out his put­ter that was still in his left hand, smiled and punched the air with his right fist.

Only when he looked over at Jor­dan Spi­eth and Daniel Berger, the two wit­nesses to a 59 that Thomas made look easy, did the sense of his­tory start to hit him.

Berger thrust his arm in the air. Spi­eth, his best friend in golf since they were 13, crouched as the ball neared the cup and de­liv­ered a left-handed fist pump as both raced over to con­grat­u­late him.

“I think I got more ex­cited from see­ing them get ex­cited than I did my putt go­ing in,” Thomas said. “I thought about it go­ing up to the green. I’m like, ‘If I make it, what am I go­ing to do?’ It’s not like win­ning a tour­na­ment. You have three days left to try to play well. So I didn’t re­ally know how to re­act. I never had a putt on the last hole on a Thurs­day mean that much.”

It was dif­fer­ent from the feel­ing he had four days ago when he won the SBS Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons at Ka­palua. That was his third vic­tory on the PGA Tour, and the 23-yearold Thomas is sure to win more.

“I don’t have many chances to shoot 59,” he said.

Jim Furyk was the last player with a sub-60 round when he closed with a record 58 at the Trav­el­ers Cham­pi­onship last sum­mer. Furyk also had a 59 in 2013 at the BMW Cham­pi­onship, join­ing the ex­clu­sive group that in­cludes Al Geiberger (1977 Mem­phis Clas­sic), Chip Beck (1991 Las Ve­gas In­vi­ta­tional), David Du­val (1999 Bob Hope Clas­sic), Paul Goy­dos (2010 John Deere Clas­sic) and Stu­art Appleby (2010 Green­brier Clas­sic).

This was spe­cial be­cause he made it look so easy.

He be­gan by pitch­ing in for ea­gle from 35 yards. Thomas never hit more than a 7-iron into the par 4s at Wa­ialae on a per­fect day for scor­ing — very lit­tle breeze, fast fairways and soft greens. That 7-iron was chipped un­der the trees and into a bunker on No. 8 when he was try­ing to save par.

His only bo­gey came on his sec­ond hole, the par-3 11th, when his tee shot went into a bunker and he missed an 18-foot par putt.

Du­val was the only other player to shoot 59 with an ea­gle on the last hole. Furyk at Con­way Farms is the only other player to shoot 59 with a bo­gey.

Spi­eth was more ner­vous than Thomas and far more demon­stra­tive. Thomas had a 30-foot birdie putt on No. 7 that looked good even when it was inches from the cup un­til burn­ing the edge. Spi­eth clutched the back of his neck and was still ask­ing how the putt didn’t fall when he walked onto the next tee. He was talk­ing to him­self, of course. He gave Thomas his space.

“It’s like sit­ting on the bench with a team­mate throw­ing a per­fect game,” Spi­eth said. “It was awe­some. What an awe­some last five rounds he’s had.”

Thomas first thought about a 59 when he found an ex­tra long tee at the par-5 18th and fig­ured that was an omen for him to tee it high and ham­mer a high draw, which left him only an 8-iron into the green. He nar­rowly missed his ea­gle putt and set­tled for a 29. The way he was play­ing, he ex­pected to go lower, and he did.

“When I was on 18, I thought about 59. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I just knew that I was driv­ing it well,” he said. “And if you drive it well out there, you can make a lot of birdies.”

He fol­lowed with three birdies in four holes, and two years at Alabama was enough for him to start do­ing the math.

“He had full con­trol of his golf swing,” Spi­eth said.

Spi­eth and Berger were along for the ride. They all grad­u­ated high school in 2011 and grew up in ju­nior golf. They were to­gether a few week­ends ago at a re­sort in Maui ahead of the Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons. And they put on quite a show, with Spi­eth and Berger each shoot­ing 65. On only three holes — No. 15, 5 and 8 — did some­one in the group not make birdie or bet­ter. Their best-ball score was 17 un­der.

Thomas started to think a 59 wasn’t in the works when he was fooled on a 10-foot birdie chance on No. 5 and the putt on No. 7 some­how stayed out. He kept his hopes alive with a 10-foot par save on No. 8, know­ing he could get home in two on the par-5 ninth hole. And then he hit into a bunker.

“I saw some sand fly­ing and I was ready to punch some­thing,” Thomas said. “I was pretty up­set about that, be­cause I felt like all chances right there gone.”

But then he saw Berger hit out of the bunker with a 4-iron, and Thomas took 5-iron and “ab­so­lutely flushed it.”

One putt later, he posted the eighth sub-60 score in his­tory, and be­came the youngest to shoot 59. Thomas planned to go to the North Shore in the af­ter­noon.

Even watch­ing from the beach, he can ap­pre­ci­ate the feel­ing of catch­ing a big wave.

He’s on one right now.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Fresh off his win on Maui, Justin Thomas be­came the sev­enth player to post a sub-60 round in PGA Tour his­tory at Wa­ialae Coun­try Club in Honolulu.

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