Justin Thomas remains on a superstar trajectory despite an anomaly of a final round at 2019 Genesis Open
Thomas blew it on Sunday, and he knows it
It's not really a huge secret that Justin Thomas gift-wrapped the final round of the 2019 Genesis Open to J.B. Holmes. I've seen 3-year-old birthday parties with less wrapping paper and fewer bows than Thomas pulled out of his Titleist golf bag on Sunday afternoon at Riviera when he submitted a 4-over 75 and lost by one to the brawny Holmes.
There's not really any other way to say it. When you take 34 putts in a single round with 19 of them on the final nine holes (including two three-putts and a four-putt), you gave the tournament away. Consider this: Holmes hit seven of nine greens in regulation on the final nine holes while Thomas hit eight. Holmes' average proximity to the hole was 1 foot closer than Thomas' on the back, but his score was two strokes better.
"J.B. won. He played great," Thomas said. "But it's always a bummer to hand him a tournament. I feel like I should have won that thing. Hit some great shots the last four holes. Really, the last five holes. I hit a great shot on 14, too. Just hit a putt too hard and then misread one. But it is what it is and just got to find a way to learn from it."
The 14th hole was where Thomas three-putted, a hole after he four-putted the 13th. It would be easy to say that Thomas was blown out to sea by the pressure cooker of a Sunday at the Riv, but the problem with that is we have loads of evidence to the contrary. This is in fact not who he is, and here are three reasons why.
- He's now 6 for 9 with the 54-hole lead.
- He has finished T21, T4, 3rd in final round scoring average in the last three seasons.
- It took extraordinary circumstances to keep him from history.
Let's look at these one by one. The first one is impressive, especially given the history of closing on the PGA Tour. It's not easy, and Thomas is certainly above the average, even with the lost event on Sunday.
With the 75 in Round 4, Thomas now ranks T21 on the PGA Tour in final round scoring this season. He's been in the top five in each of the last two seasons. He's a world class closer, and one weak round at exactly the wrong time doesn't change that statistical reality.
Finally, if you don't think the wind had anything to do with Thomas' spiral, then I'm not sure what to tell you. Yes, everyone on the course had to face it, but I'm enthusiastically in the camp that if the weather had been normal that Thomas, up four to start the round, would have touched off his 10th win and joined Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth as the youngest to 10 PGA Tour wins in the last 60 years.
Thomas has made 171 of 172 putts inside of 3 feet this year. His one miss? A 2-foot, 6-inch putt on No. 13 on Sunday that was part of that four-putt double. He had gone 190 holes without three-putting and then he three-putted three times in five holes. That's called an outlier.
"I mean, two three-putts and a four-putt on my back nine. The third putt on 13, it's just I've got to stop doing that," Thomas said. "I mean, I could feel the wind coming and I got scared so I tried to hit it harder, and I did hit it harder and that's why I missed it, I jammed it.
"That's not the speed that I hit putts at when I'm putting well. And every time I miss a short putt, it's from that similar kind of scenario where I feel something when I'm over it and I either don't back off or I try to adjust over it. It ended up costing me the golf tournament."
I'm not saying that Thomas didn't blow the event. He did. He had to hit the shots and make the putts, and he didn't. What I'm saying is that if you can purchase Thomas stock low on the Monday after, you should.
After missing the cut at the 2019 Open Championship at Carnoustie, Thomas has finished in the top 12 in 10 of the last 13 tournaments he's played, including three top-three finishes this year. A win in yesterday's final round would have been his 10th in 124 PGA Tour starts (one behind Spieth and three behind Rory McIlroy at the same number of starts).
Thomas is, for my money, the best player in the world. To watch him hit low cuts and high fades and all manner of iron shots at a classic course like Riviera was to watch somebody at the height of their craft. Putting comes and goes. Thomas was first in the field in Round 1 and nearly last in Round 4. It happens.
However, he finished fourth in approach shots for the week. That doesn't come and go. He's ranked No. 1 on the PGA Tour (by a wide margin) in approach shots and No. 1 from tee to green. Neither of those come and go, either. He is, statistically and anecdotally, the best ball-striker on planet earth. Don't let a little Pacific Ocean breeze blow over that reality.
Thomas has loads of wins waiting for him over the next few years, and he might even punch that 10th one this week in Mexico where he finished runner up to Phil Mickelson one year ago. It would be a fitting bounceback after a woeful final effort in L.A. It would also be, given the way Thomas is currently hitting the ball, maybe the least surprising outcome of the myriad that could go down at the first WGC of 2019.
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