Someone calling Justin Thomas the best player in the CIMB field would likely face little, if any, argument. At world No. 4, the man who spent time last season atop the Official World Golf Rankings is the field’s highest ranked player by quite a bit, with No. 18 Xander Schauffele coming next.
The 25-year-old Thomas has nine career wins, but eight of those have occurred over the past two seasons, including three last year in a 2018 where he led the Tour’s money list for the second consecutive season.
He has one major championship – the 2017 PGA Championship, the biggest highlight of a season where he was named the Tour’s Player of the Year. He was less relevant in the 2018 major season, but did post top-25s in three of the four, including a T6 in his championship defense in St. Louis.
“Anytime you win three times in a season, it’s still a pretty good season. Obviously not winning a major was a big difference and not winning the FedExCup, but I played plenty well enough last year to win the same amount of times,” said Thomas in Malaysia, ahead of the CIMB Classic.
“You know, when you win that many times in a year, you have a lot of things go your way. You have a couple hot streaks and I just never really had any. I played really consistent good golf kind of throughout the year and I just didn’t have as many hot weeks like I did in ’16-’17.
“But again, if I win three times on Tour or at least three times on Tour every year, I would say it’s definitely a good year. But the majors are the big thing for me, so I would say that was
the biggest difference.”
The University of Alabama product is worthy of extra attention from his profile alone, but what should worry the field most is that he has played TPC Kuala Lumpur very, very well. In his first attempt in Malaysia, Thomas used a second-round 61 to reach a tournament record 26-under for the week and win by a stroke over a fast-charging Adam Scott. The very next year, Thomas again finished atop the leaderboard, this time winning by three strokes over Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama.
As the two-time defending champion at last year’s CIMB Classic, Thomas posted a much more modest T17, which can largely be imputed to a pedestrian 70-71 start, but he did turn things on over the weekend to finish the tournament at 11-under-par.
“This is always going to be a special place to me. This is always going to be the place I got my first PGA TOUR victory and that’s very, very special,” continued Thomas, when asked to comment on the success he’s enjoyed at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
“Every time I look at that trophy in my office at home, it brings back a lot of great memories, anytime I see videos or clips of it. It was a very instrumental part of my career, for sure.”
If his opponents are hoping a weakness in Thomas’ game surfaces, they might be waiting a long time. While his 2018 was not as outright phenomenal as his 2017 season, nearly every facet of his game was clicking. Among his best stats include finishing second in strokes gained: tee-to-green, third in strokes gained: approach the green, third is scoring average, and fourth in scoring average.
Among the strokes gained categories, Thomas’ worst was a 44th place finish in strokes gained: putting. He is somewhere between well above average and elite at everything.
The last time we saw Thomas in action was at the Ryder Cup where, despite somehow being a Ryder Cup rookie, he was far and away the American side’s best player. Heck, it would not be wrong to say he was the only American to show a pulse. He was 4-1-0 to score a team-high four points, and he paced his side as well as could be expected in Sunday singles, where he was the first player out and knocked off European superstar Rory McIlroy.
The field is not getting an out-of-form JT, which most of them would consider bad news.