In winning the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and vaulting back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking on Sunday, Justin Thomas raised another question:
Could this be the start of a long run at the top?
Thomas previously was ranked No. 1 in the world for four weeks, a run that ended in mid-2018. But with his victory in Memphis, Tennessee, Thomas not only regained the No. 1 spot but also bumped Jon Rahm out of the top spot after just two weeks.
It was the 13th victory in Thomas’s career, a milestone topped at his age only by Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus in the past 60 years. It also established Thomas as the front-runner for the PGA Tour player-of-the-year honors and the pre-tournament favorite at this week's PGA Championship.
“I feel like I’m a better player and I’m a more complete golfer than I was then,” Thomas said after his three-stroke victory ahead of Brooks Koepka, Phil Mickelson, Daniel Berger and Tom Lewis.
“I’ve been working hard. I feel like I’ve been playing better than my results since we’ve come back from the quarantine. This is the time of the year to get on a little bit of a run”
Three weeks earlier, Thomas led the Workday Charity Open by three strokes with three holes to play, only to be beaten by Collin Morikawa in a playoff. Before that, Thomas squandered a chance to win the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in the PGA Tour’s return to competition in June.
This time, with a leaderboard stacked with appropriately big names for a World Golf Championship event, Thomas closed with a final-round 65 while two late mistakes undid Koepka’s attempt to break his yearlong victory drought.
Thomas was the beneficiary of an enormous break at the par-4 15th hole where his tee shot missed the fairway badly, bounced across a cart path and over a penalty area. What could have been a bogey or worse became a birdie that put Thomas ahead with three holes remaining.
“I got unbelievably lucky but that’s the stuff that happens when you win,” said Thomas, who had Jim “Bones” Mackay as his caddie while his regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, deals with health issues. “Somehow it calmed me down. I started thinking this could be for us.”
Despite the disappointing finish, it was a sudden return to form for Koepka on the eve of the PGA Championship that he has won the past two years. Sitting outside the top 150 in FedEx Cup points entering last week and answering questions about his troublesome left knee and why he had just one top-10 finish this season, Koepka looked like his menacing self again until a bogey at the par-5 16th and a finishing double bogey cost him.
“I feel good,” Koepka said. “I feel like my game’s right there. This is where we want to be, peaking for the PGA. I feel like my game’s right there, everything’s solid.”
Ron Green Jr.