CRAWFORD | With record-breaking win, St. X grad Thomas now the world's hottest golfer
Justin Thomas shot the lowest 72-hole total in PGA history on his way to winning the Sony Open in Honolulu, his second straight win on the PGA Tour and third in five events.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A week ago, Jordan Spieth said the “floodgates” might be opening for his friend Justin Thomas, the Goshen, Ky., native and St. Xavier graduate who won the SBS Tournament of Champions a week ago.
In addition to being one of the world’s best golfers, Spieth might someday make a pretty good analyst. The floodgates have indeed opened for the 23-year-old Thomas, who on Sunday fired his second straight round of 65 to win the Sony Open by seven strokes with a 27-under score of 253, the lowest score in PGA history for 72 holes.
Beyond that, Thomas won for the third time in his first five tour starts this year, making him the youngest ever to do that, and just the third since 1970, along with Tiger Woods (2013, '08 and '03) and Johnny Miller (1974 and '75). He’s the first to sweep those Hawaiian tournaments since Ernie Els did it in 2003. And he's the first since Woods to win in consecutive weeks by margins of three strokes or more.
Thomas comes back from Hawaii with two-week winnings of around $2.3 million. But more valuable than that, he brings momentum. Stung at being passed over for the Ryder Cup team a year ago, Thomas will not be overlooked as he begins to take aim on the year’s first major — The Masters at Augusta National from April 6-9.
“I'm so excited for The Masters,” Thomas said after finishing his round in Honolulu Sunday. “I said that as soon as I finished last year, as soon as I finished the majors last year. I feel like it's a course that's really good for my game. It was so tough last year and I wasn't playing well to where I didn't have much. It's just such a fun place to play and a cool atmosphere. I'm so ready to get back there.”
It’s always more fun when you have a head of steam. Of course, Thomas first had the challenge of managing a big lead heading into Sunday’s final round. He was up by seven strokes, and no one in PGA history ever had lost a lead that large heading into a final round.
It poses its own kind of challenge, and Thomas admitted to feeling the pressure.
“All I could hear about from everyone and reading everything is no one has ever blown a seven-shot lead before,” Thomas said. “A lot of things go through your head when you wake up at 6:30 and you don't tee off until 12:40. . . . It was tough. I was definitely nervous this morning. It's just a lot of things that go through your mind with a seven-shot lead. I mean, even with a one or two-shot lead. There's just so many things that were running through my head. I just tried to block them out just to get off to a decent start. One through three were pars, but I felt like they were solid pars just to ease things off. I tried to stay patient and tried to have some fun out there.”
It’s safe to say the fun has begun for Thomas. It was his first wire-to-wire win on the tour, his first win in absolutely commanding fashion, and that did mean something to him.
“I just can't get over how fast these two weeks went by and how much of a blur they almost are,” Thomas said. “I played some great golf. I'm really excited where my game is and how comfortable I'm feeling when I'm out there. This win meant a lot because of how I did it. The first wire-to-wire win. I mean, I had a hard time getting focused up there today. I was nervous today for the first time I've felt like that in a long time. To be able to handle that the way I did, I was very proud.”
Look, very few people in any sport get to experience what Justin Thomas is experiencing right now. You’re at the top of your game, and that puts you on top of the world. Thomas moves to No. 8 in the world with the win, but no golfer on earth is hotter than he is right now.
“Honestly it felt like we were playing a different tournament,” Spieth said after finishing third behind Justin Rose in Honolulu. “I honestly felt like I was trying to win the tournament for second place. JT, just pretty unbelievable what he's doing right now. He's got full control of his game, full confidence, and he's executing under pressure. It's a lot of fun to see. Certainly stuff that myself and a lot of our peers have seen going back, I mean, almost ten years now. Certainly showing the world what he's capable of.”
You forget, perhaps, that Thomas is only 23. He made his first cut on the Tour younger than any player ever had. So he’s been around a while, and he’s had a great deal of success. But compared to Spieth or Rory McIlroy or Jason Day, perhaps not as much as he’d like.
It feels like Thomas now is exploding onto the scene, but for those other golfers, it’s not a revelation. Asked if we’re seeing the birth of a potential great player, Spieth didn’t agree with the wording.
“I don't think the birth is a right word,” he said. “He's already been there. He's gone through the process. He's succeeded to the highest level at each level and just moved up the totem pole. When you get out to the big tour, sometimes it takes a little bit of time to win or win in bunches. To answer your question, I wouldn't say a good player that's hot and I wouldn't say it's birth of a guy either.
“I would say it's just a tremendous player who's already been at that level, just takes winning a couple of times, I think. Then they start to fall. I can speak from a bit of experience there, winning once and then not winning again for another year and a half. But once that happened, you know, they kind of came in bunches. Just how it works sometimes. JT has got it rolling now and he's going to be a tough guy to stop this year. . . . It's really cool to see. He's very humble but confident on the golf course. A great friend. I'm happy for him.”
He’s not the only one happy. Thomas knows that this hot start will only increase expectations everyone else has for him as the majors approach, but he had those expectations for himself already.
“Looking at guys like Rory or Jordan, Jason Day, they go out there and they finish 10th a couple of events in a row and then finish 20th, everyone is like what's wrong with them?” Thomas said. “I don't know if I'm to that point yet or when it will happen or whatever. That's the kind of stuff you've just got to block that out. I've always expected this of myself. It just hasn't happened yet. Now that it's happening, I continue to have the same expectations. I just need to continue to put the work in and just be ready every time I tee it up.”
But don’t think he’s not also having fun with it. You can hear it in his voice, as much as he keeps the emotion out of it as best he can.
“I'm obviously playing great,” he said. “I'm not going to sit here and tell you I'm playing OK. I mean, I am, I'm playing really well. There's always parts of my game that I can improve. The things that I'm doing well are the things that are giving me success. I need to continue to finely tune those and keep those intact and then work on the things that are the reasons I'm making bogeys or the reason I'm not birdieing easy holes and stuff like that.”
Yes, there’s always room for improvement, but Thomas acknowledged, “I would take the golf I played the last few weeks every week I play.”
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