Thomas aims for three-peat

Player of year back in Malaysia where he 1st won

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Steve DiMeglio @Steve_DiMeglio USA TO­DAY Sports Justin Thomas was won the last two tour­na­ments at TPC Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

What­ever the rea­son, Justin Thomas has a thing for Malaysia.

He won his first PGA Tour ti­tle there, set­ting a tour­na­ment-record low of 26-un­der-par 262 and post­ing a course-record 61 in the 2015 CIMB Clas­sic at TPC Kuala Lumpur. He won his sec­ond Tour ti­tle on the same ground a year later when he played his last 23 holes in 13 un­der.

Per­haps it’s the food, the course, the city it­self, the tour­na­ment ho­tel. Or maybe the weather. Or the col­lec­tive sum of many parts. But even Thomas can’t put a fin­ger on why he’ll go for a three-peat this week in the sec­ond event of the 2017-18 sea­son.

“I re­ally don’t know why,” Thomas, 24, said a few days be­fore board­ing his cross-the-globe flight to Asia, which came just a few days af­ter the reign­ing PGA Tour player of the year put a bow on his 2016-17 sea­son with a su­perb stint in The Pres­i­dents Cup.

Nei­ther does his caddie, Jimmy John­son, who was on the bag when Steve Stricker be­came the last player to three-peat in the 2011 John Deere Clas­sic.

“There is a rea­son, but I don’t know what it is,” John­son said. “I just think the course suits his eye, be­cause when we get there, he just starts driv­ing the ball re­ally well for some rea­son. He has a lot of wedges in his hands, and he’s great with wedges.”

Thomas agreed with that. And the two tacked on an­other rea­son.

Pa­tience.

To­ward the end of Thomas’ solid yet win­less rookie cam­paign, he hired John­son. At the time, im­pa­tience was far too of­ten Thomas’ 15th club, es­pe­cially while see­ing good friends Jor­dan Spi­eth and Rickie Fowler en­joy so much suc­cess. But John­son knew — as did Thomas — that once he closed out a tour­na­ment, the flood gates might open and pa­tience would be a strength.

“It was easy to get im­pa­tient with my­self, but my dad does a great job of re­mind­ing me I’ve done a lot of great things, and I will con­tinue to do a lot of great things if I con­tinue to work hard and con­tinue to do the right things,” Thomas said.

The work paid off in the last round of the CIMB Clas­sic in 2015, when he re­bounded from hit­ting a ball into the wa­ter on the 14th hole with three birdies to se­cure his first ti­tle. And pa­tience proved piv­otal a year later in Kuala Lumpur in his ti­tle de­fense.

“He was 4-over par on Saturday in the last group af­ter 13 holes, and we just had a talk, and I said, ‘You know what? You never know when you can get your birdies,’ ” John­son said. “And he birdied the last five holes. We were nine be­hind be­fore that, and he didn’t panic. He was a bet­ter player; he was bet­ter at han­dling his emo­tions. And he put the ac­cel­er­a­tor down, shot 64 in the last round and won by three.”

He kept his foot floored for most of the rest of the sea­son, too. The re­peat vic­tory in Malaysia trig­gered a sea­son that in­cluded win­ning five Tour ti­tles, in­clud­ing his first ma­jor in the PGA Cham­pi­onship with a bril­liant back nine on the fi­nal day; cap­tur­ing the FedExCup and shoot­ing 59 en route to vic­tory in the Sony Open, where he also shot a four-day to­tal of 253 to set a Tour record. He also es­tab­lished the record for low­est round in re­la­tion to par in a ma­jor with a 9-un­der 63 in the U.S. Open.

Now the world No. 4 could have his pa­tience tested as he tries to re­peat his supreme cam­paign. As he ac­cepted the FedExCup tro­phy at The Tour Cham­pi­onship, Thomas re­vealed a screen shot on his iPhone of his 2016-17 goals. From win­ning a ma­jor, to mak­ing The Pres­i­dents Cup team, to win­ning mul­ti­ple times, he achieved most ev­ery­thing on the list.

As he headed to Malaysia, he had yet to make a list for 2017-18. He said he’ll spend time talk­ing with Jack Nick­laus, Tiger Woods and Spi­eth about re­set­ting goals af­ter a great year. He’ll come up with a list — and then go to work.

“It’s go­ing to be a tough year, a dif­fer­ent year, but I’ll do ev­ery­thing I can to have an­other great year,” Thomas said.

He’s in the per­fect place to start.

AN­DREW GOMBERT, EPA-EFE

Mak­ing The Pres­i­dents Cup team was a 2016-17 goal for Justin Thomas.

STAN­LEY CHOU, GETTY IM­AGES

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