Justin Thomas played beautifully for much of his win at the Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Sunday, but the world No4’s route to victory wasn’t without a few twists.
It was quite a surprise to see Thomas finish his final round bogey-par-bogey, squandering the two-shot lead he’d held with three not particularly difficult holes to play and sending him into a play-off with Xander Schauffele and Patrick Reed.
His second shot into 18, which landed in the hazard, was extraordinary.
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He had half of Hawaii on the right but overhooked it, perhaps trying to play the perfect shot because he feared playing partner and overnight leader Schauffele would make birdie.
As it was, Schauffele missed the chance to take the win when he three-putted the last – another big shock.
He had putted really well all day but was just too aggressive with his first effort from 35 feet, which didn’t break and sailed seven feet past the hole.
Reed, meanwhile, was already in the clubhouse on 14 under par, having carded a closing 66 despite not playing very well.
Time and again he missed greens – he was 33rd out of 34 players for making greens in regulation – but repeatedly got up and down. Reed led the field by a distance for strokes gained: putting.
Thomas eventually prevailed at the third play-off hole, after Reed had passed up chances to win at the first two, taking his tally to 12 wins on the PGA Tour.
It is the most of any player in their 20s, while only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus had won more before turning 27.
He seems very hungry for more success – after this win he said he felt he should in fact be winning more – and you are never more hungry than at the start of a new year.
You’ve had Christmas off to rest so in January you are ready to push yourself again.
Having gone 12 months without a title until last year’s BMW Championship, Thomas has now won three times in his last seven starts.
When he is hot, he is very hot indeed and when you are that good you do expect to be challenging every time. Maybe that’s where his hunger comes from.
The 2017 US PGA Championship winner is always one of the leading contenders for Majors and that will surely be the case in 2020 too.
I think it’s interesting that both Thomas and Schauffele were taught by their fathers – as I was, too.
Because they love you, dads don’t hold anything back – unlike some coaches, who may fear destroying their players – and that’s why there is nothing better.
King Louis the man to beat at European Tour curtain-raiser
The European Tour cranks up again this week in Johannesburg with the South African Open, where home favourite Louis Oosthuizen will be looking to defend his crown.
Oosthuizen rated his success last year right up there with his Open victory at St Andrews in 2010, so this event is hugely important to him.
He will be the man to beat again at a tournament that produces swathes of home winners – 13 of the last 23 have been South African – owing to tricky conditions that are more familiar to local players.
Ryder Cup excitement builds with start of new year
Lastly, the start of 2020 means we are now officially in a Ryder Cup year, bringing the contest closer to the front of players’ minds in Europe and the United States.
All will have planned the schedules with the Ryder Cup in mind. Those who have experienced it before will be eager for another shot, and those who haven’t will be desperate to make their debuts.
We’ll be talking about it a lot more as September approaches but for now it’s exciting that the ball is rolling.