January 9, 2017
Justin Thomas held off red-hot Hideki Matsuyama to win his third USPGA Tour title on Sunday with a final-round 69 at the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, Hawaii.
Thomas's four-under par effort gave him a 22-under total of 270 and a three-shot win over Japan's Matsuyama -- who arrived in Hawaii having won four of his prior five tournaments worldwide.
Thomas was, in fact, the only man to beat Matsuyama in that span, at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in October.
But the 23-year-old American had to survive some tense moments on the back nine to again best Matsuyama, who started the day two behind Thomas and carded an three-under 70 for 273.
Former world number one and defending champion Jordan Spieth matched the best round of the tournament with a final-round 65, heading a trio sharing third on 276 alongside Pat Perez, who carded a 67, and Ryan Moore, who posted a 71.
It was a further stroke back to US Open champion Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Brendan Steele.
Thomas was rolling with three birdies on the front nine. After a bogey at 10, and birdies at 11 and 13, he grabbed a five-stroke lead over Matsuyama at 22-under.
But Matsuyama narrowed the gap with a remarkable eagle at the par-four 14th, where his flop shot from 60 feet off the green found the hole.
Things got even more tense at 15, where Thomas hit out of the fairway into dense vegetation in a hazard en route to a double-bogey seven that sliced his lead to one stroke as Matsuyama parred the par-five from almost the same spot in the fairway.
Matsuyama had a 10-foot birdie putt to move into a tie for the lead at 16, but left it inches short.
And at 17 he three-putted for bogey as Thomas rolled in a three-footer for birdie to rebuild his lead before they both birdied Kapalua's par-five 18th.
"It's a great feeling," said Thomas, whose victory in the elite 32-man event for last season's title winners was his first tour title on US soil after his back-to-back CIMB Classic wins.
"I obviously stumbled a bit more than I would have liked on some of those holes, but I think it really shows where my game's at right now.
"I stuck it out to still get it done."
Spieth, who started the day in 19th, 10 shots off the pace, had eight birdies in his sparkling eight-under effort, including four in a row starting at the 12th.
"Very, very satisfying," he said. "To come back, fire a strong one today ... I certainly take a lot of confidence off this round going into next week."
World number one Jason Day, back in action this week after three months off rehabbing a troublesome back, had his ups and downs but finished on a high note with an eagle to cap his three-under 70. He finished tied for 13th on 279.
Although he said he always tees it up expecting to win, he said there were positives to take away.
"I didn't have anything in the back of my mind that my back was going to go out this week," he said "The back held up."
January 8, 2017
Justin Thomas, who as a skinny kid in Kentucky had to hit driver to reach a par 3 in junior golf, stood on the 14th tee at Kapalua trying to decide if 3-wood would be enough to drive the green on a par that was playing 287 yards up the hill.
His caddie thought driver was the club, and Thomas took it from there.
''It needs to be something hot to run up there,'' he said. ''And I just nuked it, and hit it low and just enough to scoot up the ridge.''
The ball bounded onto the green to 20 feet, and Thomas made that for eagle . It was enough for him to take control Saturday at the SBS Tournament of Champions, ultimately leading to a third straight round of 6-under 67 and a two-shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama, who had a 66.
Perhaps it's only fitting that those who will be in the final group.
Thomas, who was at 18-under 201, is the only player to beat Matsuyama over the last three months.
The 24-year-old from Japan has won four of his last tournaments dating to Oct. 16 at the Japan Open, a streak that includes seven-shot victories in Japan and at a World Golf Championships event in Shanghai.
Thomas beat him by three at the CIMB Classic at Malaysia, and Matsuyama wasn't much of a threat that final round.
He is now.
''If I'm near Hideki in the tournament, that's usually a pretty good thing on Sunday,'' Thomas said. ''He's obviously a tremendous player and he's on an unbelievable run here the last five events. I actually had no idea I was the only one to beat him in the last five events, which is absurd, the fact he's won four of his last five. ... But there's a lot of great players out there. I just need to go take care of my job.''
There might not be as many players to beat in this winners-only field after Thomas gave himself a little separation. Only five players were within five shots of the lead going into the final round, with Dustin Johnson seven shots back and world No. 1 Jason Day eight shots behind.
Thomas was only mildly perturbed that his lead wasn't greater.
Following his eagle on the 14th, he smashed another drive that caught the slope on the par-5 15th and rolled to the bottom of the hill, a 348-yard drive that left him only 180 yards to the elevated green. But his shot was a clunker coming out of the short rough, and while he hit a tough pitch to 6 feet, he read a fraction too much break in the putt and had to settle for par.
''I had 8-iron twice and made par,'' he said of his week.
On the short 16th, he pounded another drive within 60 yards of the pin, but his wedge came up well short and he missed from 15 feet. He also looked back to how he closed out the front nine, with a soft bogey on No. 7 and missed birdie chances of 10 feet on the par-3 eighth and a 3-footer on the par-5 ninth.
''I'm definitely not disappointed with today, but I left a lot out there,'' Thomas said.
Matsuyama made three birdies over his last five holes, starting with a chip-in on the 14th hole, to get into the final group as he goes for his fourth straight victory
''Justin doesn't have any weaknesses at all in his game,'' Matsuyama said. ''He hits it long, has a marvelous short game, putts well, hits the ball well. We've got to go low tomorrow to be able to catch him.''
Memorial winner William McGirt, one of 11 players playing the Plantation course at Kapalua for the first time, played bogey-free for a 66 and was four shots behind, along with Ryan Moore (71) and Jimmy Walker (70).
Moore was tied for the lead until Thomas drove the 14th green for his eagle and Moore missed a 15-foot birdie putt. On the next hole, Moore's tee shot plugged into the steep face of a bunker and he had no choice but to pitch out sideways, leading to another bogey.
Walker spent most of the gorgeous afternoon wincing over putts that kept burning the edges of the cup.
''Plenty of looks. Nothing went in,'' Walker said. ''That's just kind of frustrating, especially the finish. I had a good look on 17, and then to not get that up-and-down on 18 is a bummer. ... I'm hitting the putts the way I feel like I need to hit them. They're just not going in.''
Thomas has won twice in his three years on the PGA Tour, both in Malaysia.
Jordan Spieth, meanwhile, had another double bogey, this one on his second hold. He ended with a three-putt par on the 18th for a 70 and was 10 shots behind.
January 8, 2017
Ryan Moore and Justin Thomas shot identical six-under 67s for the second straight day and are tied for the lead at the halfway point of the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions.
Moore and Thomas are at 12-under 134 and have a one shot lead after 36 holes at the Plantation Course in Kapalua, Hawaii.
First round leader Jimmy Walker is tied for second with Patrick Reid at 11 under, but world number one Jason Day is also still in the mix.
Walker was at 12 under until he made bogey on the 17th hole to fall one back after a 70 on Friday. Reed posted one of the low rounds of the day with an eight-under 65.
Moore closed his round with a wedge shot on No. 18 that stopped a foot from the hole. He made birdie on four of his final five holes.
Thomas put together a string of three consecutive birdies starting at No. 3. His lone bogey of the round came at the par-five No. 15.
Jason Dufner was by himself at 10 under after back-to-back 68s, and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan was another shot back at nine under after a 68.
Matsuyama, who is seeking his fourth straight win, was one of six players to lead in the second round.
Australia's Day was tied for 11th at seven under after posting a 69. American Dustin Johnson was also at seven under after a second-round 70.
Defending champion Jordan Spieth sabotaged his otherwise strong round with a triple bogey after an errant drive on the 17th hole for a 69.
He is seven shots adrift at five under.
"I'll struggle for the next couple hours getting over 17 kind of throwing me out of the tournament," Spieth said.
January 7, 2017
Reigning PGA Championship winner Jimmy Walker fired a bogey-free 65 to take the lead after the first round of the Tournament of Champions, the inaugural USPGA Tour event of 2017.
The 37-year-old Walker rolled in six birdies and an eagle for a two-shot lead over fellow Americans Ryan Moore, Jim Herman and Justin Thomas at the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort.
World number one Jason Day of Australia is five shots off the pace and tied for 12th while defending tournament champion and world No. 2 Jordan Spieth is tied for 22nd at 72 after two bogeys and three birdies.
Walker shot eight under and his eagle came at the par-five, 532-yard number five hole after placing his 226-yard approach shot 12 feet off the cup.
"(The putt) had about 12 feet of break on it," said the six-time Tour winner.
The Tournament of Champions is the third start of the 2016-17 season for Walker, who missed the cut at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and tied for 77th at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions.
He also plays very well in Hawaii, winning the Sony Open in 2014 and 2015 and finishing runner-up in the 2015 Tournament of Champions.
"I enjoy being here. I love the scenery. I'm a very visual person, so I enjoy looking out and watching the whales when I'm walking around."
Herman, Thomas and Moore carded 67s, with all three playing bogey free and Moore picking up two eagles at No. 5 and the par-four No. 3.
Daniel Berger and Jason Dufner are tied for fifth at 68. World No. 3 Dustin Johnson headlines a five-way tie for seventh with Cody Gribble, Pat Perez, Japan's Hideki Matsuyama and Australia's Rod Pampling at 69.
Day had three bogeys to go with six birdies.
"(My play) was actually alright," said Day, who signed an endorsement deal with Nike last week. "Just didn't putt that great."
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