Thomas showing no signs of slowing down
February 26, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Justin Thomas wins in 1st playoff hole at Honda
Justin Thomas birdies 18 the hard way to force a sudden-death playoff, then birdies the same hole to beat Luke List, this time by reaching the green with a daring 5-wood over the water.
Welcome to the Monday Finish, where Thomas, 24, tamed tricky PGA National to salt away his eighth PGA TOUR win and seventh in his last 31 starts (23 percent).
Here are some takeaways from the week.
1-Thomas is burnishing his rep as a closer. Much has been said and written about reigning FedExCup champ pulling back into the lead in the current FedExCup standings, and taking no penalty strokes even amid all that wind and water at PGA National, and about moving up to third in the Official World Golf Ranking, ahead of Jordan Spieth and behind only Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. That’s all great, but Thomas is especially proud of his clutch play. The Honda marked the ninth time he has gone into the final round at T2 or better on TOUR; he’s won seven of those times. Most clutch, perhaps, was his birdie on the final hole of regulation after getting out of position and needing to get up and down with a gap wedge in his hands from 117 yards. With List on the green in two, Thomas nearly holed his third shot to force the playoff.
2-This could be an epic follow-up to his FedExCup-winning season. Thomas won five times last season, and joins Patton Kizzire as the only multiple winners so far this season. He also joins Tiger Woods, Brandt Snedeker and Spieth as the only reigning FedExCup champs to win multiple times the following season. You have to wonder how far Thomas might go in 2018, especially considering he finished T5 at the 2017 World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship (back this week) and how close he’s been when he hasn’t won. After winning THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, he was T22 at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, T14 at the Sony Open in Hawaii, T17 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open and T9 at the Genesis Open. “I was four [bad] holes away from probably winning Phoenix,” Thomas said. “One round away from having a great chance to win L.A. Sony, just a cold putter away from having a great chance to win that. Kapalua, I wasn't really close. Actually, I wasn't remotely close (laughter). I was a little rusty there.”
3-Luke List should be encouraged. His runner-up finish was his best finish on TOUR, and his 3-under back nine came after he made bogeys at two of his first four holes. “I've been in situations, maybe not in the final round, where I've gotten off to a slow start and that's when why you are brain starts spinning a little bit negatively,” List said. “I was able to kind of bring myself back in.” List credited an Aussie Rules Football player named Brent Stevens, nicknamed Moose, for helping him with his mental game (List’s caddie introduced them.) Just as helpful have been his matches against recent TOUR winner Patrick Cantlay, who like List plays out of Virginia Country Club in Long Beach, Calif., and is coached by Jamie Mulligan. Even before the Honda, John Cook, who also plays out of the laid-back club, said List appeared to be “right on the verge” and “about ready to step into that level that Patrick has touched a bit.”
4-Tiger Woods is building up to something. Although his goal was to get into the field at this week’s WGC-Mexico Championship (he needed to win), Woods was pleased after hovering just out of contention before finishing 12th at even par. The Honda marked the first time he’s played in consecutive weeks since back-fusion surgery last spring, and amid other superlatives, he was third in driving distance (319.1). “I didn't really know what to expect for the year,” Woods said after moving up 49 spots to 130th in the FedExCup. “I had not gone through this before. This is all new. I had to make some pretty big changes in my swing and my feels.” The best indication of his seriousness: He usually texts Thomas when the latter is in contention. Not this time. “Got crickets last night,” Thomas said to laughter. “I knew he had one thing in mind, and we both had the same thing in mind, so I thought that was pretty funny.”
5-Sam Burns was a delight. The LSU product and Web.com Tour rookie had never met Tiger Woods and said he didn’t even remember his opening tee shot, so surreal was the moment. “You see the guy on TV, you see him all over the place and you're standing there next to him on the tee box and you're like, that's Tiger Woods,” Burns said. “We had a blast. He was super nice. Very encouraging. I think we're all happy to see him back playing golf.” Best of all: Burns, 22, shot one of just two bogey-free rounds Sunday (68) to tie for eighth, earning him a spot in the field at next week’s Valspar Championship. Asked how many text messages he had on his phone after the final round of the Honda, Burns said, “448.”
1-Thomas gives up some size to List, but still led the field in driving distance (320.9 yards), with List in second (319.9). That was hardly the only way in which the winner and runner-up were alike, statistically speaking. Thomas was slightly more accurate off the tee at 55.36 percent (T60) to List’s 53.57 percent (T65); they tied for 14th in greens in regulation (65.28 percent); and Thomas led the field in scrambling (84 percent), with List second (80 percent). List putted better, finishing ninth in strokes gained: putting (1.254) to Thomas’ 28th (.521).
2-Alex Noren’s first TOUR victory seems almost inevitable, and sooner rather than later. He shot a final-round 67 despite failing to birdie 18, and in registering his second top-three finish in his last four TOUR starts, he once again showed his consistency. Noren tied for eighth in driving accuracy (69.64 percent) and greens in regulation (68.06 percent), and was third in strokes gained: putting (1.754). His solo third moved him up to 19th in the FedExCup standings.
3-Tommy Fleetwood three-putted for bogey at 14 and then bogeyed 15, too, ultimately finishing two out of the playoff after a 69. But the Englishman, who was making his first-ever start at the Honda, tied for first in driving accuracy (75 percent). He simply didn’t get it done around the greens, finishing 10th in scrambling (68 percent) and 41st in strokes gained: putting (.173).
4-Woods led the field in proximity to the hole on approach shots (just over 29 feet), but was done in by the Bear Trap holes (15-17). Although he came into the Honda having played that difficult stretch in 2-over-par in his 11 previous rounds, it was a far different story this time. He was 8-over on those holes, with two water balls, both at the par-3 15th.
5-Speaking of the Bear Trap, the par-3 17th was the toughest hole all week, giving players fits as they compiled a 3.533 stroke average. The par-3 15th was the second hardest (3.391), with the 16th hole the fourth most difficult (4.262). You’d have to say the three-hole stretch lived up to its name. But the Bear Trap isn’t everything. Just one player, Andrew Novak, made par or better on those holes all four rounds, and he tied for 57th place.