Justin Thomas' record-setting victory in Sony Open a sign of growing comfort and confidence
HONOLULU -- With the outcome well in hand the only thing left for Justin Thomas to chase was history.
After beginning the week by becoming just the seventh player on the PGA Tour to shoot 59 and the youngest to do so at age 23, he ended it with a birdie to cap a five-under 65 on Sunday at the Sony Open in Hawaii to set a 72-hole scoring record at 253.
The previous mark was 254, set by Tommy Armour III at the 2003 Texas Open.
“It was a very fun week,” said Thomas, who finished seven strokes ahead of second-place Justin Rose and eight ahead of Jordan Spieth, who said he felt like he was playing in a different tournament. "This win meant a lot because of how I did it. The first wire-to-wire win. I had a hard time getting focused up there today. I was nervous today for the first time I've felt like that in a long time.”
He didn’t show it.
Thomas, who was coming off a victory last week in Maui and has now won three times in his last five starts, opened the final round at Waialae Country Club with a seven-stroke lead, and no one got closer than five all day.
After an early bogey, Thomas birdied four of five holes around the turn before adding another at 14.
At the par-5 18th, with the scoring mark on his mind since before he teed off, he reached the green in two and two-putted from 60 feet to add his name to the record book.
“I don't think anybody can say they necessarily saw something coming, but I felt there was no reason why I shouldn't win them or shouldn't be in contention,” Thomas said of his last two weeks. “I've always felt like I had the game to do so. I have been playing well. I'm just in a good spot mentally right now.”
Caddie Jimmy Johnson descried it as a “calmness.”
“His personality is still the same,” Johnson said. “But he knows not to panic because every tournament he wins has been different.”
In his first career victory at the 2015 CIMB Classic in Malaysia, Thomas bounced back from a double bogey late in the final round with a nervy six-foot par on the last to win by one over Adam Scott. A year later, he rallied from four on the final day to successfully defend his title.
Last week at Kapalua, Thomas led by five with five holes to play when Hideki Matsuyama chased him down. He responded by ripping an 8-iron from 214 yards to a few feet on the 17th hole to set up birdie. He added another at the last and won by three.
“His patience is much better,” said Justin’s father Mike, also his coach. “Nothing breeds confidence like confidence.
“He was swinging too good at it to get in his own way. He expected to win before, but that’s easy to say when you haven’t done it before.”
With the victory, Thomas becomes the first player since Ernie Els in 2003 to win both Hawaii events. He also moves to a career-best eighth in the Official World Golf Rankings.
It’s a position Thomas has always felt he could be in.
From an early age, he made up for his lack of length by swinging as hard as he could. It helped him develop a strong short game and allowed him to trust his swing when the pressure was on.
Thomas went on to have a decorated amateur career and in college was named National Player of the Year as a freshman and a year later helped the University of Alabama to a national championship.
After winning on the Web.com Tour in 2014 and earning his PGA Tour card for the following season, more success followed. Thomas racked up seven top 10s his rookie year and the second start of his second year won in Malaysia.
“He's succeeded to the highest level at each level and just moved up the totem pole,” said Spieth. “When you get out to the big tour, sometimes it takes a little bit of time to win or win in bunches."
It helps to be one of the longest players in the game and one of its best ball-strikers. At Waialae, Thomas led the field in strokes gained-tee to green and was sixth in proximity to the hole. He was also second in putting for the week.
With each shot and every victory, Thomas' comfort level has only continued to grow.
“I expect to be in contention every time I play,” he said. “I just have more -- I have a four instead of a one now in that win column.”