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Justin Thomas wins WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

Justin Thomas figured out how to win again at just the right time

AKRON, Ohio — The last time Justin Thomas won a golf tournament, he was calling out rowdy spectators in the gallery and getting more attention for that controversial move than for capturing the Honda Classic.

That win was five months ago, not that big of a deal in the overall scheme of things but an eternity to a guy like Thomas, who was getting a bit antsy before closing the deal on Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

A five-time winner during the 2017 season, Thomas, 25, was always going to have a tough time living up to that Player of the Year season. And heading into defense of his PGA Championship this week at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, it was bugging him.

“It’s been hard, too,” Thomas said of trying to temper expectations. “I mean, it feels like I haven’t won in forever.”

Of course, a four-shot win at Firestone and a first World Golf Championship victory will make that angst go away quickly. Thomas took care of that nagging victory question with a final-round 69 to easily win over Kyle Stanley while winning a PGA Tour event for the first time with his grandparents in attendance.

While there was some emotion involved, Thomas might also step back for some perspective.

All he needs to do is ask his good buddy, Jordan Spieth, what it’s been like this year. Spieth has not won since the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale.

And so while Spieth heads to Bellerive trying to complete the career Grand Slam, it is Thomas who takes a good bit of momentum, now having won three times this season to join No. 1-ranked Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson as the only players to win that often.

Funny, that friendship/rivalry with Spieth — who tied for 60th and shot three rounds in the 70s this week.

Their relationship goes back more than a decade, back to junior golf days and at rival colleges, where each could hold their own share of bragging rights.

But Spieth clearly blossomed more quickly as a pro than Justin Thomas, who always praised his good buddy’s success through an amazing early run on the PGA Tour, including his third major title last year at The Open and into the PGA Championship where he was getting all the hype.

Spieth was gunning for the career Grand Slam and Thomas was … well, searching for his first major championship, which came with a final-round 68, as he overtook a few of the game’s other young stars in the process at Quail Hollow.

Now, three victories later, he has closed the gap on Spieth — 11 PGA Tour victories for Spieth, nine for Thomas. And since the start of 2017, Thomas has won seven times, had a brief time at No. 1 in the world, and now sits No. 2 to Johnson.

“I think what he learned is that he has to play his game and not force it,” said Thomas’ caddie, Jimmy Johnson, who has been working with Thomas for three years after a long stint with Steve Stricker. “Let the course come to him, and play a little smarter. He was trying too hard, maybe. I don’t think he was so much frustrated as he was trying too hard. He’s just letting his potential go through now.”

Thomas had not exactly been dogging it since his Honda victory. He lost in a playoff to Phil Mickelson the next week at the WGC-Mexico Championship and was fourth at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

But his only top-10s since then were a tie for eighth at both the Memorial and the French Open. He was not a final-day factor at the Masters and U.S. Open and he missed the cut two weeks ago at The Open.

“I just want to have more chances to win tournaments,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of really solid finishes, a lot of top-10s, or a lot of top-15s, but a lot of those have been because of a pretty good last day, as opposed to having a chance to win. That’s what I’m out here for.

“These last, what, six events, I really want to try to have an opportunity to win as many of these events as I can going into Sunday and on the back nine, because that’s where I feel like I’m comfortable, it’s where I feel like I thrive, it’s what I enjoy, it’s why I play.”

It is that kind of attitude that quickly drew Rory McIlroy to Thomas when he first came on tour a few years ago. They live near each other in South Florida, so they often practice and play together.

As it turned out, they were grouped in the final pairing Sunday, with McIlroy unable to make a charge and settling for a tie for sixth.

“I like J.T.’s attitude over everything else,” McIlroy said. “He’s got a nasty streak in him, which I think you need out here. He has that. When he gets himself in the hunt, you can see like a little twinkle in his eye and he really enjoys it.”

What made Sunday even better for Thomas was having his grandparents on hand. Both Thomas’ dad, Mike, and his grandfather, Paul, were PGA of America pros — and Paul Thomas played in the 1960 PGA Championship at Firestone. Paul and Phyllis Thomas live in the Louisville, Ky., and this is the first time they saw Justin win in person on the PGA Tour.

“It was pretty special,” he said. “I can’t put it into words, honestly. I saw my grandma and grandpa and just had to put my head down. I never have gotten like that on the golf course before. You just don’t know if they’re ever going to see me win if I don’t win here, so it was pretty cool to get it done.”

SOURCE: ESPN

Foxfire Spotlight – Meet Paul Thomas!

Jordan Spieth grabs Open lead; Matt Kuchar two shots back

Jordan Spieth grabs Open lead; Matt Kuchar two shots back

SOUTHPORT, England — The flight of Jordan Spieth’s 3-wood from the light rough looked about as ugly as the weather at The Open. The outcome was about as bright as his chances of getting his name on another major championship trophy.

Spieth seized control Friday at Royal Birkdale with a shot that he hit a little off the neck of his 3-wood. It was low and hot, and ran fast along the rain-soaked turf until it skirted by a pot bunker and rambled onto the green to set up an 18-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th.

“I mishit the shot, which is probably why it looked so gross,” Spieth said. “I hit it low off the heel, which is easy to do when you’re trying to carve a cut. And it just … one hop, scooted around the group of bunkers there, and then it was obviously fortunate to get all the way to the green.”

Even in gusts that topped 30 mph and occasional downpours so strong that play was briefly stopped, Spieth managed a 1-under 69 to build a two-shot lead over Matt Kuchar going into the weekend.

Spieth was at 6-under 134. It was the 12th time he has been atop the leaderboard at a major, including the fourth rounds of the Masters and U.S. Open that he won in 2015. Spieth is the sole leader at a major for the first time since the third round of the Masters last year, when he was runner-up to Danny Willett.

“Anytime you’re in the last group on a weekend in a major … you get nervous. And I’ll be feeling it this weekend a bit,” Spieth said. “But I enjoy it. As long as I approach it positively and recognize that this is what you want to feel because you’re in the position you want to be in, then the easier it is to hit solid shots and to create solid rounds.”

Kuchar played in the morning in steadily strong wind, but without rain, and pieced together a solid round until a few mistakes at the end for a 71. He was at 4-under 136, and it would have been a good bet that he would be leading with the nasty weather that arrived.

“I think that’s what people enjoy about the British Open is watching the hard wind, the rain, the guys just trying to survive out there,” Kuchar said. “Today is my day. I get to kick back in the afternoon and watch the guys just try to survive.”

He wound up watching another short-game clinic from Spieth.

The key to his round came in the middle, starting with a 10-foot par putt on No. 8 after he drove into a pot bunker. The biggest break came at No. 10, when the rain was pounding Royal Birkdale. Spieth hit into another pot bunker off the tee, could only advance it out sideways, and came up short of the green in light rough. He was looking at bogey or worse when he chipped in for par.

“Massive,” he said about the par. “Nothing said `4′ about this hole. I feel a little guilty about taking 4 on the card.”

And he wasn’t through just yet. Spieth rolled in a 35-foot birdie putt across the 11th green, and then after watching Henrik Stenson’s tee shot on the par-3 12th land softly, Spieth realized he could take on the flag. He hit 7-iron to 2 feet for another birdie, and followed that with a beautiful pitch to tap-in range for par on the 13th.

Even so, his work is far from over.

The chasing pack features U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who failed to make a birdie but stayed in the hunt with 16 pars in a 72, and Ian Poulter with his newfound confidence, which is growing even higher with the support of the English crowd. Poulter shot 70.

Not to be overlooked was Rory McIlroy, who recovered from a horrific start Thursday to salvage a 71, and then kept right on rolling. McIlroy, who was 5 over through the opening six holes of the tournament, ran off three birdies with full control of every shot on the front nine.

And much like Spieth, he kept his round together with crucial par saves when the wind was at its worse.

McIlroy posted a 68 and was at 1-under 139, only five shots behind with only five players in front of him.

“To be in after two days and be under par for this championship after the way I started, I’m ecstatic with that,” McIlroy said.

Not everyone got off so easy.

Justin Thomas, who started the second round just two shots behind, drove into the gorse on the first hole and took double bogey. That wasn’t nearly as bad as the sixth hole, where he tried three times to hammer out of the thick native grass well right of the fairway. He couldn’t find the ball after the third one, and he wound up taking a quintuple-bogey 9. Thomas made another double bogey on the 13th hole and shot 80.

Charl Schwartzel was tied for the lead after four holes. And then his approach to No. 5 sailed over the green and led to double bogey, leading to a downfall so severe that the former Masters champion shot 78.

Spieth never looked as if he was under any stress, except for his tee shot into the bunker on No. 8. A British writer suggested a lip-reader could have detected some choice words coming out of his mouth. Spieth smiled and replied, “I speak American. You probably didn’t understand me.”

The language of his clubs was all too familiar. For the first time this year, he is making his normal share of putts — a lot — to go along with ball-striking that has been strong all season. And he established himself as the target for the weekend at Royal Birkdale.

SOURCE: ESPN

Justin Thomas wins Tournament of Champions

Justin Thomas closes with 4-under 69, wins Tournament of Champions

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Justin Thomas kept reminding himself that a one-shot lead with two holes to play is never a bad place to be on the PGA Tour.

Ignoring that his five-shot lead was nearly gone against Hideki Matsuyama, Thomas thought more about the great golf that had put him in this position Sunday at the SBS Tournament of Champions. He responded by hitting an 8-iron from 214 yards on a downhill lie that was so pure he stopped to admire it before it landed.

It plopped down in front of the pin and settled 3 feet away. Thomas birdied the hole. Matsuyama three-putted for bogey, and Thomas was on his way to a comfortable victory at Kapalua that moved him into the conversation of golf’s young stars.

“The best shot I hit this week,” Thomas said. “There’s a tree that’s a little slanted, and it’s a perfect aiming point. I just kind of aimed it there and made sure I held onto the club, if anything, to make sure my miss was right. … And really, I just flushed it. As soon as it came off, I knew it was going to be perfect.”

Matsuyama, going after his fourth straight victory worldwide, knew he needed to make his 30-foot birdie putt to stay in the game. He ran it 8 feet by, missed the par putt coming back and was out of chances when Thomas hammered another tee shot on the par-5 18th.

Thomas closed with a two-putt birdie for a 4-under 69 and a three-shot victory, his second win of the PGA Tour season that moved him to No. 12 in the world. His other two PGA Tour titles were at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.

“I think it’s potentially floodgates opening,” said Jordan Spieth, Thomas’ best friend in golf since they were teenagers. “The guy hits it forever. He’s got a really, really nifty short game. He manages the course well. He’s playing the golf course the way it should be played, and honestly, he’s taking advantage of the easier holes.

“It’s awesome to see,” Spieth said. “He’s going to be tough to beat next week, too.”

Spieth closed with a 65 and tied for third with Pat Perez (67) and Ryan Moore(71).

Matsuyama, who made two soft bogeys on the front nine to fall five shots behind, made it more of a game than anyone expected. The 24-year-old from Japan holed a flop shot for eagle on the 14th hole, and then Thomas hooked a 4-iron into the hazard on the par-5 15th hole and made double-bogey.

Just like that, Thomas went from a five-shot lead to a one-shot lead, and Matsuyama had a 10-foot birdie putt on the 16th to tie for the lead. The putt narrowly missed, and Thomas answered with his 8-iron for birdie to end it. Matsuyama closed with a 70.

“My putter let me down there at 16, 17 and 18,” Matsuyama said. “I tipped my hat to Justin. He played well all day long.”

Thomas is the only player to beat Matsuyama over the last three months. In his last six tournaments worldwide, Matsuyama had four victories and a pair of runner-up finishes — both to Thomas, in Kuala Lumpur and Kapalua.

Thomas, who finished at 22-under 270, said his immediate thoughts were booking a return trip to Kapalua next year for the winners-only event.

“It changes things going forward because I know I’m coming back here,” Thomas said.

The scenery down the 18th toward the blue Pacific, where humpback whales spent the afternoon breeching and splashing their tails, was even better because Thomas’ parents were watching him win for the first time. His father, Mike Thomas, is a longtime head pro in Harmony Landing in Kentucky who is still his coach.

Spieth and Jimmy Walker came down to the 18th to congratulate the winner.

Thomas started the final round with a two-shot lead and no one got closer until his blunder on the 15th. One of the longest hitters in golf despite his slight build, Thomas really didn’t miss a shot until the ninth hole, and that’s when he got a huge break.

With the wind stiff and in his face, he got quick with his driver and hit a snap-hook into the knee-high weeds left of the fairway. He hit a provisional for a lost ball and was about ready to abandon the search when a TV spotter was summoned to give an indication where it went. They found the ball, and it was sitting up a few inches above some roots, allowing Thomas to at least hack out into the fairway.

He followed with a 3-wood onto the green for a two-putt par after starting with a shot that made double-bogey appear likely.

Thomas wasn’t so fortunate on the 15th.

“I stumbled more than I would have liked to do,” Thomas said. “But it shows where my game is at right now. I had some woes there, but I stuck it out to still get it done.”

SOURCE: ESPN