Justin Thomas earns 14th career title at THE PLAYERS Championship
by Preston Smith
There aren’t a lot of things Justin Thomas hasn’t accomplished in professional golf, but on Sunday, he added a new first: a title at THE PLAYERS Championship. The win was the 14th of Thomas’ PGA TOUR career and first since the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last August.
“It's a huge championship, very special,” said Thomas after his win. “It's a tournament I've wanted to win, a tournament that I truly did feel like I was going to win at some point, and hopefully multiple times. I love the golf course. It was in incredible shape this week. The greens were so good. The fairways were perfect. Rough was long. Just a great test of golf. I mean, that's why it's THE PLAYERS Championship.”
With the win, Thomas moved to the top-ranked spot in the Olympic Golf Rankings (based on the Official World Golf Ranking) just ahead of Spaniard Jon Rahm and American Collin Morikawa.
With the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 quickly approaching, Thomas has positioned himself inside the top-four Americans to garner consideration. The top-15 players in the Olympic Golf Rankings will be eligible for the Olympics up to a maximum of four golfers per country. Currently for Team USA, the top-four Americans include Thomas (No. 1), Morikawa (No. 3), Bryson DeChambeau (No. 4) and Xander Schauffele (No. 5). DeChambeau leaped up the Rankings after a win two week’s ago at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and a T3 finish at THE PLAYERS.
Thomas’ win game in dramatic fashion. The 27-year-old was even-par through his first 33 holes and in danger of missing the cut before birdying two of his final three holes in the second round. From there, he kept the pedal down with four consecutive birdies to begin his third round en route to a 64 on Saturday. Entering the final round three strokes back, Thomas made his move by going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie at holes 9-12 to claim the lead and eventually hang on for a one-stroke victory.
An emotional Thomas celebrated with his parents after the win and paid tribute to his grandfather, who passed away last month at the age of 89.
"I thought about him this morning,” reflected Thomas. “I think about him every day, but thought about him this morning and then I think when I saw my dad walking up 18 was the first time during or since I teed off on No. 1 when I really thought about him.”
THE PLAYERS Championship marked one year since the sports world was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Thomas credited some increased pressure to the return of a limited number of fans on-site.
“It's not even remotely close,” said Thomas. “I can't even attempt to explain it. It's like -- I mean, it's like having a money game with your buddies and then it's like playing in front of 10,000 people. It's hard to explain. But it is such -- you're nervous. Like you want to win the tournament when there's no fans and you feel it, but the things that I felt out there today and those last couple holes is something that I haven't felt in a really long time because of all this, in over a year, probably since like Mexico last year. It's just bizarre. The hair on my arms and neck and legs were standing straight up walking to 17 green, and to have to play five to eight yards for adrenaline just because of the fans and the moment on 17 and 18 and other holes, it's stuff that's so hard to explain. But it felt great. I mean, that's why we all play. That's why we all do this.”