You could call Justin Thomas the Matsuyama Stopper, or you could refer to him as something even better: a three-time PGA Tour winner.
Thomas shot a final round 4-under-par 69 to win the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua. The Kentucky native finished the Hawaii tournament at 22-under-par, three shots clear of runner-up Hideki Matsuyama.
Thomas has gotten off to an incredible start to the new 2016-17 season. In just four starts, he has two wins, a Top-10, and a Top-25.
|1/8/17||SBS Tournament of Champions||1||$1,220,000||500|
Matsuyama, undoubtedly the hottest golfer in the world as of late, is likely to be sick of the thought of Thomas.
The Japanese superstar has four victories in his last six International events, with both non-victories being runner-up finishes to Thomas: this one at Kapalua, and the CIMB Classic in Malaysia three months ago.
1 Justin Thomas -23
2 Hideki Matsuyama -19
T3 Jordan Spieth, Pat Perez, Ryan Moore -16
T6 Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Brendan Steele -15
T9 Tony Finau, William McGirt, Jimmy Walker -14
T12 Jason Day -13
T17 Russell Knox -11
T25 Bubba Watson -6
How Thomas Won
Thomas started the day two-strokes ahead of Matsuyama, and four clear of the field. With two birdies over his first five holes, Thomas took a more comfortable lead early on, and held on to it most of the day.
Through 13 holes, Thomas was up 5 strokes on Matsuyama, and appeared to be coasting to victory.
But then things got interesting. First, on the par-4 14th, Matsuyama holed out for eagle with a highlight-reel flop shot. The comfortable 5-stroke lead for Thomas was cut down to three.
On the next hole, the par-5 15th, an ill-advised second shot by Thomas led to a penalty, and an untimely double-bogey.
The once comfy cushion for Thomas was no more. With two holes to play, the lead he held over the hottest player in the world was down to a single stroke.
But Thomas rebounded nicely with clutch birdies on both 17 and 18, while Matsuyama finished bogey-birdie.
What It Means for Thomas
With the win at Kapalua, Thomas jumps to #2 in the FedEx Cup standings – only 36 points behind Matsuyama – and moves up to #12 in the official world rankings. He’s now virtually guaranteed a spot on the American President’s Cup team, and has already punched his ticket to the Tour Championship at East Lake.
Thomas is sure to be a player to watch at the majors this year, and at only 23, for years to come. If he were to win a major this season, he will be able to make the argument that on any given Sunday, he’s as good as anyone in th world.
Familiar Names in a Familiar Place
In 2015-16 the top two players on Tour in top 10 finishes were Dustin Johnson (15) and Patrick Reed (11).
After this early January tournament, both already have one to add to their 2017 total.
Johnson never really contended at Kapalua, but the 2016 Player of the Year was a model of consistency, with three 69s and a 70 to finish T6. His Sunday 4-under 69 included just one bogey, which was only his third of the entire week. That tied for the tournament lead.
Reed was not as consistent as DJ, but ultimately finished with the same result. After a second round 65, which tied Jordan Spieth’s final round for the low round of the tournament, Reed was well in the mix, but fell back after a disappointing third round 72. He was two strokes better on Sunday, posting a 3-under 70.
Reed got in some trouble early on the back nine with a double bogey on 11 and another bogey on 12, but three birdies over the final five holes saved his usual position in the top 10.
A Memorable Finish for the Defending Champion
Defending Champion Jordan Spieth, who won by a dominating eight strokes in last year’s edition of the Tournament of Champions, had the epitome of a back door top-3. But it was a very promising season debut for the two-time major winner and 2015 Player of the Year.
Spieth was a mile back of the lead after a mediocre opening round 72, but he was anything but mediocre on Sunday. Spieth finished his tournament with a sizzling 8-under 65 to rocket from 19th place to a tie for 3rd.
The strength of his round was a birdie-binge from holes 12 through 15. His driving distance, a surprising 270 yards per drive, was a large drop from his first three rounds, but statistically, he was infinitely better in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+4.066) than he was in the opening three rounds (-0.407, -0.094, -2.246 respectively).
“It changes things going forward, because I know I’m coming back here next year, so I couldn’t be more excited about that. It’s a great feeling. I obviously stumbled a bit more on some of those holes, but that it really shows where my game is at right now. I had some woes there, the second part of the nine, but I stuck it out to still get it done.”
–Justin Thomas, SBS Tournament of Champions Winner