Justin Thomas is back. And at the most opportune time.
With a 4-under 68 on Sunday, Thomas did more than required to convert his six-stroke 54-hole lead into a win at the BMW Championship – the second leg of the revamped FedExCup Playoffs.
Thomas finished with a tournament-record 25-under par for the week to claim a three-stroke victory over Patrick Cantlay at famed Medinah Country Club, just outside of Chicago.
For Thomas – who was having a down year by his lofty standards, it was his maiden win of the 2019 season, but 10th of his career. He joined Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, and Jordan Spieth as the only players to reach double-digit PGA Tour wins before or by the age of 26.
More importantly, with the victory, Thomas suddenly finds himself atop the FedExCup Standings, and will enter the postseason finale at East Lake holding the No. 1 position. In the new format, Thomas will begin the Tour Championship at 10-under par, two strokes ahead of No. 2 Cantlay, giving him a serious advantage in his quest to win the tournament and the FedExCup, along with the $16.65 million in first-place prize and bonus money.
Despite starting Sunday with the large lead, the final round proved to be anything but easy for Thomas as his once-comfortable six-stroke lead had been shaved to just two after Cantlay reeled off four-straight birdies on hole Nos. 7-10.
However, Thomas settled himself with a clutch birdie on No. 11, and stayed hot the rest of the way in, adding three more birdies on Nos. 13, 15, and 18 to seal the victory.
The week began with 70 players still alive in the FedExCup chase, but after Sunday, that number was truncated to just 30. Only three players who began the week outside the top 30 played their way into East Lake, including Hideki Matsuyama, who finished solo-third after his second 9-under 63 of the week.
Among those who will not be at East Lake this year is defending Tour Championship winner, and reigning Masters Champion, Tiger Woods – who shot a pedestrian even-par 72 to finish T38 for the tournament, and 42nd in the FedExCup standings.
Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth also fell flat in their respective bids to snap poor form, and neither will be in the field this week at East Lake.
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Pos-Player-To Par (Final Rd)
1. Justin Thomas -25 (-4)
2. Patrick Cantlay -22 (-7)
3. Hideki Matsuyama -20 (-9)
4. Tony Finau -17 (-2)
5. Brandt Snedeker -16 (-4)
5. Jon Rahm -16 (-3)
7. Corey Conners -15 (-3)
7. Lucas Glover -15 (-3)
9. Adam Scott -14 (-5)
9. Kevin Kisner -14 (-3)
11. Louis Oosthuizen -13
11. Tommy Fleetwood -13
11. Rickie Fowler -13
19. Patrick Reed -11
19. Rory McIlroy -11
19. Xander Schauffele -11
24. Brooks Koepka -10
24. Webb Simpson -10
31. Ian Poulter -8
31. Gary Woodland -8
37. Tiger Woods -7
37. Jordan Spieth -7
48. Phil Mickelson -5
48. Bryson DeChambeau -5
48. Shane Lowry -5
52. Jason Day -4
52. Matt Kuchar -4
52. Justin Rose -4
57. Dustin Johnson -3
57. Jim Furyk -3
61. Francesco Molinari -2
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How Justin Thomas Won The BMW Championship
After winning three tournaments a year ago, Thomas started the 2019 season hot, with five top-10s in his first seven starts – three of those results being inside the top three.
However, since a ninth-place finish at the WGC-Mexico Championship in February, Thomas had not recorded another top-10, primarily due to a serious wrist injury incurred at The Honda, which shelved him for nearly two months and another month or so trying to clean off the rust.
He was trending positively, though, finishing T11 at the Open Championship, and following it up with a pair of T12s at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational, and last week’s The Northern Trust.
Despite the quiet year, Thomas was still 15th in the FedExCup standings coming into the week, due to a red-hot start to the season. He put himself in good position with a 65-69 start, but looked on a completely different level when he dismantled Medinah with a third-round 61. On Sunday, he claimed to be nervous, but rarely looked it in his six-birdie final round. His 27 birdies led the field for the week, with his best work being done with his irons as he ranked second in both strokes gained: approach-the-green and strokes gained: tee-to-green.
Thomas’ Winning Numbers
Driving: 315.5 yards (7th)
Fairways: 35/56, 62.5% (41st)
Greens: 53/72, 73.6% (17th)
Putts/GIR: 82/1.547 (1st)
Scores: 2 Eagles, 27 Birdies, 37 Pars, 6 Bogeys
Off the Tee: 1.359 (17th)
Approach to Green: 7.540 (2nd)
Around the Green: 2.370 (9th)
Putting: 5.1271 (6th)
Tee to Green: 11.310 (2nd)
Total: 16.710 (1st)
What It Means For Thomas
That No. 1 spot in next week’s Tour Championship provides an especially big advantage, as he begins the tournament at 10-under par, the first time the playoffs have attempted this new format.
Along with starting two up on Cantlay, he also starts three strokes ahead of World No. 1 Brooks Koepka, which could be important given Koepka’s propensity for showing up big in big events.
Thomas, a former world No. himself, had dropped to No. 10 in the world rankings over the course of the season, but with the win, rises back up to the No. 5 spot. Since cracking the top-10 after winning the Sony Open on 1/15/2017, Thomas has never fallen outside of this elite list. Of the active top-10 players, only Dustin Johnson has a longer streak.
Thomas’ 2019 PGA Tour Season
Cuts Made: 16
Wins: 1 (BMW Championship)
Addtl Top 10s: 5
Earnings: $5,013,084 (8th)
FedEx Pts: 3,475 (1st)
World Rank Before/After: 10/5
Hideki Matsuyama had been in the midst of a down season himself, a considerably lesser season than Thomas, but he showed more than a few signs of life with a stellar 9-under 63 on Sunday, a round which included 10 birdies.
The 27-year-old Japanese native also posted a 63 on Friday, a course record which lasted only a day, but followed it up with a 73 on Saturday to knock himself off the pace. Matsuyama ended up reaching 20-under for the week to finish in solo-third place, which allowed him to jump from 33rd to 15th in the FedExCup Standings.
After Matsuyama’s 63 and Cantlay’s 65, the next best round of the final day came from veteran Vaughn Taylor, who made the turn at 4-under before shooting a bogey-free 6-under 66. The 43-year-old Taylor finished T16, which was not quite good enough to crack the top 30 of the FedExCup Standings, but it did cap off his most lucrative season on Tour since 2010.
Adam Scott shot a 5-under 67 on Sunday to finish T9 and tally his second consecutive top 10 finish. His 17 top 10s in FedExCup Playoff events is just one short of the all-time record of Dustin Johnson. Scott is coming into the Tour Championship with considerable momentum, and he will start East Lake in the 13th position.
After something of a career resurgence in 2019, the season of Rory Sabbatini came to a frustrating end on Sunday. The 43-year-old South African started the day in fourth place, but had one of the worst rounds in the Sunday field, notching just one birdie in a 2-over 74 that dropped him into a share of 16th place.
Sabbatini jumped nine positions in the FedExCup Standings, but still fell six spots short of the top 30.
Tiger Woods needed a tremendous day to have any shot at getting to defend his 2018 Tour Championship title at East Lake, but fell well short on Sunday, managing just an even-par 72.
Tiger’s round stalled after birdies on Nos. 4 and 5, as he failed to card a single birdie on the back nine. His short game was especially poor, as he finished 64th in the field in strokes gained: around-the-green. Despite a Masters victory this season, Tiger finished 42nd in the FedExCup standings, largely a product of a part-time schedule since April.
Back-to-back double bogeys on 16 and 17 doomed the small chances former World No. 1 Jason Day had of advancing to East Lake. Day shot a 2-over 74 and a T52 finish left him 54th in the FedExCup Standings. Day had recently made news by parting ways with famous caddy Steve Williams, a pairing that had not been as prolific as they had hoped.
Day, a 12 time Tour winner, had just one finish inside the top 20 since a T5 at The Masters in April.
In the cut from 70 to 30 players for the Tour Championship, just three golfers moved into the top 30 who started the week outside. Matsuyama was the biggest mover, jumping from 33rd to 15th. The other two were Lucas Glover, who jumped from 41st to 29th with a T7 finish at Medinah, and Jason Kokrak, who made a modest jump from 32nd to 30th.
Glover withstood a late bogey-double stretch on 16 and 17 to qualify for his first Tour Championship since 2009. To make room for the threesome, Open Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry (25th to 33rd), Andrew Putnam (30th to 34th), and Harold Varner III (29th to 38th) dropped out of the top 30.
“It’s hard. I was really nervous today. It’s hard to play with the lead; I was enjoying it though, I was like ‘this is why you play’ and I forgot how hard it is to win, and that’s why it has taken this long. You don’t know how often things like this are going to happen, but we’ve been working hard to get back to it, and it feels great.”
– Justin Thomas, BMW Championship Winner