On a week when scores surged north of 1,000 over par, Justin Thomas held on and threw down a thrilling ending to the 2018 Honda Classic as he won in a one-hole playoff over Luke List. The victory was his second of the 2017-18 season, seventh in the last two years and eighth of his career.
Following a first 10 holes that saw Thomas hit just four fairways in regulation and, he got through the Bear Trap unscathed before unleashing one of the more dramatic endings to a tournament we’ve seen all year.
As they stepped to the 18th hole, Thomas and playing partner List were tied at 7 under with Alex Noren, who was already in the clubhouse. Thomas and List pumped two of the three longest drives of the day on No. 18, but List was in the fairway and Thomas was not. Because he pushed his into the right rough, Thomas had to lay up to 117 yards away on the par 5. List went for the green, made it and had a 33-foot eagle putt. Thomas, however, was just giving List a better seat for the show as it turned out. His third shot nearly went in the cup. In fact, he was pleading with it to hop left and go in, which would have effectively ended the event. It stayed up, but Thomas had a kick-in birdie. List covered him up with a two-putt birdie of his own, and those two went to a playoff.
After List pumped one amid the palm trees on the first playoff hole and hit his second off a hospitality tent, it was all but over. List said afterward he knew Thomas was going to make birdie, and Thomas did with ease after reaching the par-5 green in two (the same one he’d just tried to burn down 20 minutes earlier).
It capped off a three-day stretch in which Thomas made 51 pars or birdies and shot a round-of-the-tournament 65 on Saturday. At the end of a wind-whipped week, Thomas looked beat as he answered questions from CBS Sports’ Peter Kostis.
“It was another level of difficulty,” Thomas said. “Not only the amount of people I was trying but this golf course itself. Luke was playing unbelievable on that back nine. It was a hell of a battle out there. I thought I stayed very calm all day. I know what this back nine holds. I know how tough it can be. It feels awesome to come out on top. I’m so proud of myself for how well I played. I only dropped one shot each (of the last three days).”
With the win, Thomas now joins an eye-popping list of golfers who have won eight or more times in the last three decades. The victory is his seventh in 31 tries and serves as part two of an encore to his ludicrous five-win season in 2016-17 (Thomas also won the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges last fall).
The big moment was obviously the wedge on the 72nd hole to get into the playoff, but Thomas had to fight for 71 holes just to get into that position. The crux of the J.T. ethos is this: There aren’t many guys who would hit that shot in that spot. But there also aren’t many who could hang on for 71 holes of madness around PGA National. Thomas somehow embodies both. This is why he’s one of the best golfers on the planet right now. This is why he’s won eight times before turning 25 in April. This is why he’s Justin Thomas.
Here are our grades for the Honda Classic.
Tommy Fleetwood (4th): The Englishman might have my favorite swing on the PGA Tour right now. He was lights out on the weekend as he fired a 67-69 that nearly scored him his first win on the PGA Tour. Still, some of the shots he hit at PGA National, while not surprising given his ball flight and trajectory, were ridiculous. That first PGA Tour victory is on deck. Grade: A
Rory McIlroy (T59): If you would have told me a Nike athlete paid eight figures a year and somebody named “Rory” would be in the top 20 at the end of the week but that neither would be Rory McIlroy, I would have lost a lot of money. The good news for McIlroy is that he finished top 20 in strokes gained putting. The bad news is that that stat usually means he wins the golf tournament. This quote from McIlroy sums up his week at PGA National. Grade: D-
Tiger Woods (12th): Tiger played about as well as anybody could have envisioned him playing this week following that missed cut at the Genesis Open last week at Riviera Country Club. There are a number of different stats to pick from, but the one that probably stood out most was his proximity to the hole number of 29 feet, 3 inches. It’s not just a number, either. It felt like Woods was pin high on pretty much every single hole I watched. It all adds up to Woods surging into the top 400 of the Official World Golf Rankings. Grade: A+
Rickie Fowler (MC): Fowler ejected hard in the second round with a 76. The defending champion made six bogeys and a double that day and never had a shot at the cut line. To me, it’s a little more disconcerting when a player makes loads of bogeys than when he makes one really atrocious score (like a quadruple bogey on a par 3). Fowler has now missed two of his last three cuts, which is one fewer than he missed in all of 2017.
“I haven’t been swinging it great the last … month and a half, it hasn’t been great,” said Fowler. “Obviously playing in the wind, it will pick you apart even more. I had spurts of good stuff in Phoenix. That’s why we were in contention.” Grade: F
Sergio Garcia (T33): I try to always include my pick to win for the week, especially when he plays as poorly as Garcia did this week. Garcia couldn’t crack 70 this week at PGA National, mostly because he drove it and putted terribly. His approach shots were still fabulous, and we got several instances of #SergioTraj throughout, which was amazing. However, Garcia made four doubles on the week (three of them on Sunday!) and was never truly in the mix after going out in 38 on his first nine holes in Round 1. He gets a bit of a pass given how long it’s been since he played, but I expect to see him jump back on track in the lead-in to the Masters in a month and a half. Grade: C-
Check out updates and highlights from Round 4 at the Honda Classic below.
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