PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Justin Thomas knew the expectations were outpacing the results, so last month he called Jack Nicklaus.
The two spent more than 90 minutes at Nicklaus’ home in Palm Beach Gardens. The experience of hearing stories from the 18-time major champion was invaluable to Thomas.
“The main thing was being patient and to be smart,” he said. “You’ve got to understand where your game is at and how to play when your game is where it’s at. Today it was good.”
A year ago in the final round of the Players, Thomas entered the back nine in contention and collapsed with an inward 40.
Sunday, the 23-year-old birdied four of his first eight holes, made eight birdies and one bogey in all and shot 65 to tie for third. It was his best result since a tie for third at the Honda Classic in February and just his second top 15 in 14 starts since his maiden victory last November in Malaysia.
“It was huge just because I felt like I had nothing to show for how I was playing,” Thomas said. “It's nice to finally have a result that's somewhat up near the top of the leaderboard to show.”
A week ago, Thomas hit the ball well but missed the cut by three at Quail Hollow. The result prompted him to change putter grips, and he went back to a traditional grip this week at TPC Sawgrass.
It worked. He ranked 11th in the field in putting and over the last three days took 26, 28 and 28 putts.
He also called it one of the best ball-striking rounds he has ever had.
t was a far cry from a year ago when Thomas said he pressed too much over the final nine. He learned a lot that day.
“I was upset,” he said, recalling the disastrous finish. “Anytime you have a chance to win a tournament and you don’t it’s frustrating -- but to lose the Players, it definitely hurts more.
“I love this place. I had a great chance to win last year and I just, something about this track and the atmosphere, it’s a really fun tournament, and I look forward to playing it every year.”