Justin Thomas joined Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods in an exclusive club after beating two fellow Americans, Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele, in a play-off to win the first event on the 2020 golfing calendar.
In a dramatic finish to the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, Thomas dropped two shots in the final three holes before regaining his composure to claim victory at the third extra hole.
It was the 26-year-old’s second success in the event on the Plantation Course at Kapalua, where he also triumphed in 2017. It was also his second victory of the wraparound season following his win in the CJ Cup in Korea in October.
Thomas, the world No 4, has now racked up 12 PGA Tour title triumphs, joining Woods (34) and Nicklaus (20) as the only players to achieve that feat before the age of 27 in the last 60 years.
“The emotions and how I was winning and then I was barely winning and then I was losing and then I barely got in a playoff… that takes a lot out of you,” admitted Thomas, who closed with a 69 to finish alongside Reed (66) and defending champion Schuffele (70) on 14-under-par.
“I probably don’t seem as elated as I might be or as I would hope to be. But it’ll just take a little bit [time]. Once I get back to the hotel hopefully with my family, I’ll be able to enjoy it a little bit. But relief is definitely a word that comes to mind.”
Thomas, who had started the day a shot behind Schauffele, covered the opening 15 holes in five-under to be out in front before undoing some of his good work with bogeys at the 16th and 18th.
After missing from eight feet to save par at the last, the 2017 US PGA champion thought he’d blown his chance but was handed a reprieve as Schauffele was unable to convert a title-winning putt from closer range.
Reed, who was heckled by a fan at one point in the final round, then missed putts to win on the first and second play-off holes before Thomas made a birdie on the third to clinch it.
“I truly felt like through 15 holes it was one of the best rounds I had played,” added the new champion. “I was in such control tee to green. I was putting it beautifully, my irons were awesome.
“I hit a really good drive on 16, just the wind took it more, and then 18 was just a disaster. I really didn’t hit very many good shots on the hole. But it worked out.”
Schauffele was left kicking himself after failing to take his chance on the 72nd hole then bowing out of the play-off at the first extra hole as he was unable to match birdie-4s made by both Thomas and Reed.
“I should have won the tournament. I know it. Everyone knows it,” he said. “JT [Thomas]. was right there, but I should have closed it off, and I didn’t. I kind of did everything I was supposed to do until the last moment, which sucks. But this is another learning experience, and I guess I’ll have to work on some wind putting.”
American Patrick Cantlay finished fourth on 11-under, an effort that saw him leapfrog Tiger Woods, who sat out the event along with world No 1 Brooks Koepka and second-ranked Rory McIlroy, into sixth spot in the world rankings.
European No 1 Jon Rahm cemented third spot in the global standings as he finished tenth on eight-under, while Paul Casey and Graeme McDowell ended up in joint-19th and joint-23rd respectively in the 34-man field.