Chances slip by for housemates Fowler and Thomas
June 18, 2017
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Justin Thomas carded a record-breaking 63 on Saturday and finished T9 overall. (Andrew Redington/Getty Images)
ERIN, Wis. – The house shared by Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas not far from Erin Hills was supposed to be the scene of someone’s breaking out party Sunday night… instead it served as the scene of post mortems.
Heading to Sunday the U.S. Open was well and truly up for grabs with 16 players within six shots of the lead, none of whom had a major victory to their name.
Of those, Fowler and Thomas were the ones most likely.
Fowler had gone through enough near misses in majors to have learned from the experience with four previous top-5 finishes. He had since won THE PLAYERS in 2015.
The 28-year-old had also claimed The Honda Classic earlier this season, knocking off the notion from some that he struggled to close although he opened the door to doubters again when he faded from one off the lead through 54 holes at the Masters in April to finish T11.
Thomas had invigorated the tournament by terrorizing Erin Hills on Saturday for a record 9-under 63. He already had three wins on the PGA TOUR season and sat second in the FedExCup. Oh and the now 24-year-old joined the 59 club earlier in the year.
Surely one of them would kick ahead.
Starting two back, Fowler could only muster an even-par 72 to finish six shots back in a tie for fifth.
Starting one back in the final group, the U.S. Open was effectively over for Thomas after just five holes and three bogeys. His 3-over 75 left him finishing in a tie for ninth.
“I just didn't have it today. Anytime you don't win, it stings,” Thomas said.
“It just sucks to not even have a chance on that back nine. To try to go out there and try to get in a top-5 or trying to get up near the lead is not what I play for, but, unfortunately, that's really all I was dealt, so it's what I had to try to do.”
Fowler tried to take only positives away from the occasion. He only needs to look at his Zurich Classic partner Jason Day, who had nine top-10 finishes in majors before his win at the 2015 PGA Championship, to know he must forge ahead.
“I feel like golf-wise I'm playing at the highest level. If you look at the negatives too much, you're going to be stuck doing that the whole time,” he rationalized. “You have to measure success in different ways, not just by winning, just because that doesn't happen a whole lot. I think Tiger had the best winning percentage of all time at 30%, and you're lucky to even sniff close to 10. “You kind of have to say, hey, it's a major. We played well this week. I felt like I did a lot of good things, especially in the first round, executing my game plan. To finish in double digits, under par at a major championship, especially the U.S. Open, it was a good week.”
Perhaps the writing was on the wall for Thomas from the opening tee shot as it sailed left into a hazard and it’s always tough to back up a super low score with another one. The three previous players to shoot 63 in an early round at a U.S. Open all struggled the next day.
Jack Nicklaus shot 71 and Tom Weiskopf 75 after their opening 63s in the 1980 U.S. Open. Vijay Singh shot 72 in Round 3 after his second round 63 in 2003. (Johnny Miller shot 63 at Oakmont in 1973’s final round to win.)
Only Nicklaus rebounded well enough to win.
The gas tank on Thomas just didn’t fill up in time, despite having a long wait before his tee time. Too long he felt.
“It was a lot of kind of laying around and just trying to stay off the phone and try to stay away from reading stuff just because there are so many things out there that are being said or written,” Thomas explained after he woke early Sunday ahead of his 2:54 p.m. tee time.
“I just tried to stay away from it but it was hard to. I would like to think that's not why I played how I did today.”
The good news for the pair is perhaps this first-time majors thing is going to be a lasting trend. Going back to Day’s win at Whistling Straits, the last seven major winners have been first timers.
Perhaps they will get their chance to continue the narrative at the Open Championship next month at Royal Birkdale.
“I think it's a great thing. It's a lot of new blood, young guys. Kind of some of the younger crew is coming in,” Fowler said.
“I'm not saying the older guys are out by any means, but I think we're making our presence a little bit more known.”