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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!

Why Jordan Spieth’s Next Four Weeks Are So Important

Why Jordan Spieth’s next four weeks are so important

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Jordan Spieth understandably could have been upset about putting his tee shot in the water and quadruple-bogeying his final hole at the Players Championship, but the three-time major winner was pretty pumped after his final round.

That’s because he really likes the way he’s playing, and that has his confidence soaring for the upcoming back-to-back tournaments on his home turf.

“I feel as good about my golf game right now as I have in two-plus years,” Spieth said Sunday after finishing tied for 41st at 6-under par at TPC Sawgrass. “I went 14-under … with three holes left in the first round until the 17th hole the final round on a golf course that really doesn’t fit my game, and I’m going to a few places in a row that I really love.

“Everything feels like it’s progressing really nicely. I’m extremely positive about the next few weeks.”

The PGA Tour’s next two stops are in Dallas, for the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic, and Fort Worth, Texas, for the Fort Worth Invitational. Spieth lives in Dallas and has played numerous rounds at Trinity Forest Golf Club, a links-style course that opened in the fall of 2016 and will be the new home of the Byron Nelson.

Spieth said that gives him a significant advantage over “anybody else in the field, having been there from the day they sprigged the greens.

“I haven’t seen a lot of the pins and I know the tees are going to switch around from what we normally play, but I’m excited about the next few weeks.”

Spieth hasn’t finished higher than a tie for 18th in six appearances at the Byron Nelson, but he has finished in the top 10 in four of his five appearances at the Fort Worth Invitational, including winning the tournament in 2016 and finishing tied for second last year and in 2015.

Those two tournaments will be Spieth’s second and third consecutive weeks of golf, and he’s expected to play the Memorial at the end of the month. It’s the only time he plays four times in four weeks every year, and he likes doing it.

“Historically I play better golf after I’ve played the week before,” Spieth said. “You just get these weird kinks, like what I did there on 18 [at the Players], these kind of, OK, refocus and make sure you’re playing away from trouble. I get a little, I don’t know if lazy is the right word, but a little lack of commitment or maybe even over-commitment, to trying to be too aggressive first weeks out trying to shoot up the board.

“Is it difficult [to play four consecutive weeks]? No. I’m in my own bed. There’s certainly a lot of obligations that I don’t have other weeks the next two, but I’ve done a good job managing them the last couple years and will continue to.”

Quadruple-bogey on No. 18 aside, Spieth’s performance at the Players was his best there since he finished tied for fourth in his tournament debut in 2014 (he missed the cut the previous three years), and his third-round 65 was his second-best round of the season. He had shot 66 five other times this season, including the first round of The Masters (he finished third).

Spieth missed the cut at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans two weeks ago and didn’t play in the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina, May 3-6. With his confidence in his game sky high, he’s excited about the next few weeks.

“I’ve got a four-week stretch here now that I really enjoy,” Spieth said. “This is the only time I play four in a row in a season, and I like doing that. It’s fun. I love being on the road and practicing and grinding and having a chance to play on the PGA Tour, and to have these events, go home — I’ve got an opportunity in these four weeks to have a lot of fun playing golf and potentially give myself a chance to win. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”

SOURCE: ESPN

Golf’s biggest stars shine during FedEx Cup playoffs

Golf’s biggest stars shine during FedEx Cup playoffs

NORTON, Mass. — The FedEx Cup playoffs have become the domain of superstars. The journeymen, the up-and-comers, the one-hit wonders — those guys must win during the regular season. Once it’s playoff time, only the biggest of big-time players prevail.

That might seem strange, considering it’s hardly the most important stretch of tournaments on the annual calendar.

Ask any elite professional golfer and he’ll quickly respond that major championships top his priority list. After that? The Players Championship — or for many European-grown players, the BMW PGA Championship, which is the flagship event overseas. Next on the list might be a virtual sudden-death playoff between the four World Golf Championship tournaments and the four FedEx Cup playoff events, though a $10 million carrot on the end of the stick might serve as an extravagant tiebreaker for the latter.

And yet, just check out the winners. The past nine playoff titles, in reverse order, have been captured by this list of who’s who: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Johnson (again), McIlroy (again), Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler and Day (again).

There’s an excellent chance that the 10th in a row will be won by someone with a similar pedigree.

Entering the final round of the Dell Technologies Championship, there are more than a half-dozen players within shouting distance of the lead who qualify. That doesn’t even include Paul Casey, who’s been a consistent performer for years, or Marc Leishman, Grayson Murray and Adam Hadwin, each of whom has already won a PGA Tour event this year and would be a worthy champion come Monday afternoon.

Nothing against those players, but the rest of the leaderboard at TPC Boston is a veritable amplitude of greatness.

There’s Justin Thomas, in his second start since winning his first major, tied for the lead. There’s Spieth, two months removed from his third major, just 2 strokes back. World No. 1 Johnson is 3 back; so is No. 5 Jon Rahm. At 4 back, Phil Mickelson still qualifies for this list on name brand alone. And Fowler and Justin Rose are another stroke behind.

One week after Johnson defeated Spieth in a playoff at the first playoff event, even more star-power is on display here in the heart of New England, though it leaves us pondering one important question: Why?

“I imagine there’s more at stake and maybe that just plays a role, and so a little bit more experience in the bigger events or having a chance to win bigger events brings it up,” Spieth offered after a third-round 66. “I think just a little more sense of calm with certain players that allows them to free up.”

That’s one theory — and it certainly holds some weight.

The best players aren’t usually worried about what they need to do in order to advance to the next playoff event. They’ve usually already won at least once or twice during the regular season, so they’re not seeking an elusive victory, all of which, as Spieth said, frees them up.

But other explanations are equally valid.

“We treat these four events as a major,” said Thomas, who posted an 8-under 63 on Sunday. “We are trying to be peaking this time. We are trying to be peaking come Atlanta. We try to take time off before the majors; I took a week off before the playoffs to try to get my game ready to get rested and kind of get going. Obviously, the PGA changed that a little bit, but for good reason. I don’t know. I would just say that we all want to win, but it’s kind of like trying to win a golf tournament in four events. We want to win and I guess it’s happened to be that way.”

Then there’s the idea that, when the cream of the crop really needs a big week, whether it’s to salvage their season or move into that all-important top-five entering the Tour Championship, they all have the talent to make it happen.

“Sometimes not being in a good position, back is up against the wall and knowing they need to make something happen,” Fowler explained of this rationale. “I think in a lot of cases, when that happens, not every time, but guys that are the best players in the world find a way to just get the job done. Not necessarily winning, but just a good, solid week. Maybe a good performance; hey, you need to finish top-five this week, and just find a way to go do it … It’s no coincidence, I don’t think.”

It might be no coincidence on Monday, either, if the winner of this tournament is a player who resides in the current top-10 or owns a few major championships to his name.

These playoff events have brought out the best in the best players over the past few years. Based on the leaderboard, it’s happening once again this week.

SOURCE: ESPN