Justin Thomas delivers Tiger-like shots to win Honda Classic
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Justin Thomas is another young player that Tiger Woods has brought into his golfing circle, not only spending time with him but sharing some of his experience that led to 79 victories on the PGA Tour.
As recently as last week at Riviera, when Thomas was within range of the lead going into the final round, he said Woods sent him a text to dispense some advice and wish him well. That changed on the eve of the final round of the Honda Classic.
“Got crickets last night,” Thomas said with a laugh.
That’s because Woods was playing, and he was playing well.
Just not as good as Thomas.
Thomas delivered a moment that so many times belonged to Woods on Sunday. He was tied for the lead with Luke List on the par-5 18th at PGA National, with List already on the green and some 35 feet away for eagle while Thomas had to lay up from the rough.
He needed a birdie to have any chance of a playoff, and his gap wedge from 117 yards was so pure that it rolled 6 inches by the cup and settled 2 feet away.
“I have a lot of confidence in my wedge game,” Thomas said. “I knew if I got a decent number that I was going to be able to get inside 10 feet. That’s all I wanted was a chance to try to get into a playoff. And then ended up hitting a great wedge.”
Given a second chance in a sudden-death playoff with his 2-under 68, the 24-year-old Thomas came through with another clutch shot. This one was a 5-wood over the water on the 18th, toward a bunker. Thomas barked at the ball to go a little further, just to be safe.
“It was getting pretty dark to where I couldn’t see it, and as sad as it is, all I was looking at was the water to see if it splashed,” Thomas said. “And it didn’t. So I figured I was in the bunker, and then people started clapping and I could kind of see some little white dot on the green.”
That effectively was the winning shot.
List, who shot a bogey-free 32 on the back nine for a 69, went wide right in a rare miss off the tee Sunday. He had few options except to go left near the grandstands, and from there he hit a superb shot to 25 feet to at least have a chance at birdie. He ran it by 6 feet, made par, and then watched Thomas two-putt for birdie and the win.
“Hell of a battle out there,” Thomas said.
He now has won for the second time this season on the PGA Tour, both times in a playoff. The other was the CJ Cup in South Korea. Thomas now has eight career victories, seven of them in his last 31 starts on tour. He moves to No. 3 in the world, significant only because he now is one spot ahead of longtime friend Jordan Spieth for the first time in their careers. Except that Thomas doesn’t think it’s all that significant.
“Not really,” he said. “Because there’s still two more spots that I want to climb.′
List was trying for his first victory, and he hit all the right shots after consecutive bogeys on the front nine. His only regret was missing the 18th fairway in the playoff, knowing that a birdie would be required to win.
“This one is going to sting a little bit,” List said. “But I found a restored passion for what I do out here. I gave it my best effort on every shot.”
As for Woods?
He is at the stage in his comeback from a fourth back surgery that even finishing eight shots behind can be considered progress. Woods pulled to within three shots when he made an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 8, but that was only for a brief moment before Thomas rapped in a short birdie putt — set up by another great wedge — on the par-5 third hole.
Woods again was done in by the “Bear’s Trap,” a stretch of holes at the end that feature a pair of par 3s over the water. For the second time this week, he came up short and into the water on the 15th hole and made double bogey. For the second time this week, he three-putted the 16th from long range for bogey.
Woods wound up with a 70 and finished 12th.
In three starts on the PGA Tour over the last five weeks, he tied for 23rd at Torrey Pines, missed the cut at Riviera and was 12th at PGA National. Woods said he would take off next week to work in the gym. His next appearance most likely will be at Bay Hill in three weeks.
“I made a big leap this week because I really hit it well,” Woods said. “I was able to control it, especially in this wind, which is not easy to do.”
But his presence remained as strong as ever, if not stronger. Thomas felt it walking to the fourth tee, which cuts across the ninth tee box. He heard the cheer for Woods’ birdie on No. 8. He saw the massive gallery with Woods on the next tee box.
“Just so happened we were crossing paths,” Thomas said. “It’s funny how our gallery went with him, and Luke and I just kept playing.”
Thomas didn’t seem to mind.
“I’m sitting with the trophy,” he said with a smile, “so I’m fine with it.”