January 09, 2017: Two young men, a twist in the tale and some late drama summed up the final round of the Tournament of Champions. Justin Thomas was up by five with five to play, before a bit of stutter added to the final round excitement in Kapalua. Hideki Matsuyama was within one from Thomas before his putter turned cold to leave the American a clear winner. Thomas prevailed over Matsuyama to score a three shot win, his first on American soil. The 23 year old shot 69 to end the week at 22-under 270, with Matsuyama (70) his only real competitor in the final round.
Late stumble provides thrills
Thomas looked imperious for much of the final round, after starting with a three shot cushion. The drama intensified just after Matsuyama managed to hole a flop shot for an eagle at the 14th hole. Thomas hooked his approach at the par-5 15th, sailing into the hazard with his 4-iron. He made double bogey and a five shot cushion all but evaporated over the course of those two holes.
“I stumbled more than I would have liked to do,” admitted Thomas. “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.”
He got it done in style after landing in a spot of bother after the double bogey at the 15th. With Matsuyama breathing down his neck, Thomas produced a champion shot that could yet turn out to be a cathartic moment of his nascent career. Thomas nailed an 8-iron to perfection, coasting 214 yards to end up just 3 feet from the pin. It was the very club that had started his troubles at the 14th. He has veered too far right with it at that hole, before trying to compensate with a 4-iron.
Matsuyama spills opportunity
The eagle at the 17th settled the debate. Matsuyama, winner in four of his last six outings, had opportunities. But his putter let him down, just when he needed it the most. Matsuyama missed a 10 footer for birdie at the 16th, before following that with a three putt from 30 feet. As the duo walked to the scenic 18th, Thomas could afford a good view of the Pacific Ocean. He had a three shot cushion again and his friends Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker were waiting at the green to congratulate Thomas.
Matsuyama can be proud of his accomplishments this season. He may have let his opponent go on this occasion, but Thomas is the only man to have beaten him over the past three months. Both in Kuala Lumpur and now in Maui, Matsuyama came second only to Thomas. The Japanese has won four of his last six starts.
Spieth very impressed
Thomas collected his third PGA TOUR victory, but perhaps the most important one. It is a still a career that is taking shape and both his earlier victories came at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. He would have certainly enjoyed trumped a field packed only with winners. Spieth thought this could be the beginning of a grand new chapter for Thomas. The two have known each other since their college days as two very promising young golfers.
“I think it’s potentially floodgates opening,” opined Spieth. “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 was referring to their journey to Oahu for the Sony Open. The two time major winner produced a gem on Sunday. Spieth shot of fiery 65 to quieten his detractors and jump 16 spots to T3.