SBS Tournament of Champions: No doubting Thomas
Louisville native holds off Matsuyama late for third PGA Tour victory
KAPALUA — He’s the only man in the world who has been able to slow down Japan’s 24-year-old rapidly rising son in the last three months, but Justin Thomas is much more than that.
Thomas watched his lead shrink from five shots to one on the 14th and 15th holes in Sunday’s final round of the SBS Tournament of Champions, but he hit “definitely the best shot I hit this week” on 17 to walk away with a three-shot win at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
He started the day with a two-shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama.
“It was a different position for me,” the 23-year-old from Louis-ville said after his third PGA Tour win and first in the United States. “I wasn’t too familiar with starting a day with a two-shot lead. Something I’d like to get comfortable with and familiar with.”
Thomas handled the pressure well, shooting a 4-under-par 69 to finish at 22-under 270. Matsuyama (70), who has won four of his last six starts worldwide and finished second to Thomas in the other two, came in at 19-under 273.
“I was very calm,” Thomas said. “I just felt great going into today, and just the week, just because I felt like I was playing well enough to where if I just manage my game well and I minimize my mistakes, then I should at least be around the hunt.
“Made it a little harder on myself than I would have liked, but I got it done.”
Defending champion Jordan Spieth had the best score Sunday, a 65, to finish in a tie for third with Pat Perez and Ryan Moore at 276. Perez had a 67 and Moore fired 71.
After birdieing the 13th, Thomas stood at 22 under, five in front of playing partner Matsuyama.
Matsuyama eagled the 305-yard, par-4 14th with a chip-in from 20 yards to move within three.
Then on the 555-yard, par-5 15th, Thomas double-bogeyed after his second shot found the deep rough and he had to take a penalty-stroke drop. Both players parred the 16th before Thomas put things away on the 17th.
He smacked his drive 338 yards, leaving 214 to the pin. He smoked his 8-iron to 3 feet and made the birdie after Matsuyama three-putted from 33 feet.
Thomas’ 8-iron was his shot of the week.
“There’s just a tree that’s a little slanted, and it’s a perfect aiming point every day for my second shot,” he said. “I just flushed it, and as soon as it came off, I knew it was going to be perfect.”
Thomas’ previous two PGA Tour wins have both come in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, in 2015 and then in October of last year when he beat Matsuyama by three strokes.
Thomas admitted that before his second CIMB win, he would have been fretting about a shrinking lead, especially against a player like Matsuyama, who is ranked sixth in the world.
Now, things are different for the former University of Alabama standout.
“I probably would still be out there crying or whining about it,” Thomas said. “Y’all probably won’t believe me, but I didn’t really feel like it was from nerves. I felt very comfortable. … Although I end up making double (on 15), I still had a one-shot lead with three to go. … I thought I would just play these last three holes 1 under or 2 under, take our chances, see what happens.”
Thomas was completely aware of how well Matsuyama was playing, especially Sunday.
“Some of those up-and-downs Hideki had today were unbelievable — it really could have gotten out of hand or it could have gotten a lot uglier pretty quick,” Thomas said. “I could have had a six- or seven-shot lead on that back nine, and because of what he was doing and making those up-and-downs and that chip-in, it became a golf tournament.”
Matsuyama had a 10-foot birdie putt at the 15th on Sunday that would have moved him into a tie for the lead. Instead, he just missed, leaving Thomas in the lead.
Matsuyama acknowledged he was thinking victory when he climbed within one.
“I was five back with five to go, and made the eagle at 13, or was it 14?” he said through interpreter Bob Turner. “And then Justin had a little trouble at 15 and then I was really in it.”
Matsuyama is still on a remarkable roll.
“The results have been there these past couple of months, so in that respect, yeah, I am looking forward to another good year,” he said.
Thomas leaves with the $1.22 million winner’s check and 500 FedEx Cup points, moving him within 36 points of Matsuyama’s lead, as well as a spot in next season’s Tournament of Champions field.
“I take a lot of confidence,” he said. “Just any time you win, it builds confidence. Yeah, I like this course. I’d say it suits my game very well. It’s a vacation tournament, I guess you can call it, but I’m excited to come back for sure.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com.
SBS Tournament of Champions
Sunday’s Final Round • At Kapalua Plantation Course
Justin Thomas (500), $1,220,000 67-67-67-69–270 -22
Hideki Matsuyama (300), $712,000 69-68-66-70–273 -19
Ryan Moore (145), $359,000 67-67-71-71–276 -16
Pat Perez (145), $359,000 69-71-69-67–276 -16
Jordan Spieth (145), $359,000 72-69-70-65–276 -16
Dustin Johnson (92), $210,000 69-70-69-69–277 -15
Patrick Reed (92), $210,000 70-65-72-70–277 -15
Brendan Steele (92), $210,000 72-67-67-71–277 -15
Tony Finau (75), $172,333 70-68-70-70–278 -14
William McGirt (75), $172,333 70-69-66-73–278 -14
Jimmy Walker (75), $172,333 65-70-70-73–278 -14
Jason Day (63), $147,000 70-69-70-70–279 -13
Jim Herman (63), $147,000 67-71-72-69–279 -13
Daniel Berger (55), $122,000 68-70-70-72–280 -12
Cody Gribble (55), $122,000 69-72-69-70–280 -12
Brandt Snedeker (55), $122,000 70-70-69-71–280 -12
Rod Pampling (49), $98,333 69-71-72-69–281 -11
Charley Hoffman (49), $98,333 71-70-71-69–281 -11
Russell Knox (49), $98,333 71-69-68-73–281 -11
Fabian Gomez (45), $88,000 70-68-71-73–282 -10
Jason Dufner (43), $84,000 68-68-72-75–283 -9
James Hahn (40), $78,500 74-70-68-72–284 -8
Brian Stuard (40), $78,500 72-71-70-71–284 -8
Vaughn Taylor (37), $74,000 72-71-69-73–285 -7
Aaron Baddeley (34), $70,000 70-73-74-69–286 -6
Mackenzie Hughes (34), $70,000 73-72-73-68–286 -6
Bubba Watson (34), $70,000 72-72-71-71–286 -6
Greg Chalmers (31), $66,000 71-72-70-74–287 -5
Billy Hurley III (30), $64,000 74-73-72-72–291 -1
Si Woo Kim (27), $62,500 75-70-69-78–292 E
Jhonattan Vegas (27), $62,500 72-76-70-74–292 E
Branden Grace (25), $61,000 73-74-71-75–293 +1