He won well in the end but it took an extraordinary finish before Justin Thomas clinched his second PGA Tour title already this season at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Sunday.
Thomas led by two overnight and stretched his advantage over the red-hot Hideki Matsuyama to five shots, only to see that gap slashed to just one shot in the space of two holes on the back nine.
First Matsuyama, who has not finished outside the top two in his last six events, holed an eagle two at the 14th. Then Thomas compounded that by making a double bogey at 15.
But he recovered to make a fantastic birdie at 17 before Matsuyama’s form momentarily deserted him and the Japanese inexplicably three-putted, restoring Thomas’s two-shot lead.
Victory in Hawaii added to the American’s success at thew CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur in October, right at the start of the 2017 PGA Tour season, so he is off to a flyer.
Thomas is a player who has been talked about for some time already, and I thought the way he drove the ball at the weekend was phenomenal. He’s not the biggest man but he hits it a prodigious distance. It all bodes well for the 23-year-old.
Matsuyama – most recent finishes: 2, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1 – was brilliant again and played magnificently. He must have had a good Christmas because he has picked up where he left off last year.
Two-time Major winner Jordan Spieth, meanwhile, enjoyed a great final round which featured eight birdies and earned him a share of third. It’s a good start to the year for a player needing to improve on his 2016.
Justin Rose faces test of fitness
Both Spieth and Matsuyama are staying in Hawaii for this week’s Sony Open, where I’ll be keen to see how Justin Rose gets on in his first outing of the year.
Rose struggled with a back injury after winning gold at the Rio Olympics and it was a worrying sign when he pulled out of the Hero World Challenge – Tiger Woods’s tournament – last month.
We know that when he is fit the Englishman is a great player, so at this stage my main hope is that Rose is 100 per cent recovered following a long break.
Rory McIlroy kicks off year in unusual style
While Tiger’s start to the year looms later this month, we get to see Rory McIlroy this week when he takes the unusual step of starting his year off in South Africa.
McIlroy, who usually begins in the Gulf, is returning a favour to host Ernie Els, who accepted an invitation to take part in Rory’s Irish Open in 2015, and that’s nice to see.
It’s a strange one in a way because South African greens are notoriously severe, but it’ll be fascinating to see how McIlroy fares, now that he is not tied down to one club brand and has had the winter to practise with his favourites. England’s Andy Sullivan, winner there in 2015, is also in action.
Jim Furyk a great choice as Ryder Cup captain
And finally, it looks as though Jim Furyk is soon to be confirmed as captain for the United States’ Ryder Cup defence at Le Golf National in France next year.
I hope that he does get the job. He’s a dear friend, someone I have known for so many years and played alongside countless times, and will be a fantastic, fiery competitor for Europe and Thomas Bjorn.