Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2017, 1:24 pm

Minutes after holing the winning putt and still standing on the 18th green at Nine Bridges, Justin Thomas took stock of his latest achievement and offered a candid reflection.

"I just know I'm so excited to not do anything," Thomas said. "I officially have nothing left in the tank at the moment."

The mental exhale was certainly warranted after Thomas edged Marc Leishman in a playoff to win the inaugural CJ Cup in South Korea. It also seems only fitting that one of the most lucrative top prizes outside the majors would go to the player who has scooped up nearly every other accolade over the last 12 months.

On Oct. 22, 2016, Thomas was four shots off the lead with one round to go at the CIMB Classic. He was ranked 35th in the world, and had exactly one PGA Tour win under his belt.

Fast forward exactly one year and Thomas is nearly without peer. His victory Sunday was his sixth on Tour in the last 365 days, and it came at an event where he entered as the highest-ranked player in the field. When the new rankings are published, only Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth will be ahead of him.

Thomas need only look at the FedExCup and Player of the Year trophies that just arrived on his shelf for visual confirmation of the leap he has taken as a player, but the transformation was once again on full display coming down the stretch on Jeju Island. Unfazed by swirling winds and a world-class opponent, Thomas stared down a gutsy approach - first in regulation and again on the second playoff hole - with the same intensity he showed at Quail Hollow.

"It felt really good to his two really good shots there on 18 in regulation, and I had a putt with a chance to win it," Thomas told reporters. "I hit two great 3-woods there at that second playoff hole. It's a great way to cap off the year."

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Thomas' break after the close of last season was measured only in days, as he jetted from the Tour Championship to the Presidents Cup and then to last week's CIMB Classic to defend his title. It's only now, looking at a few weeks off following his final official start of 2017, that he's able to take stock of the progress he has made.

Those strides were nearly too large to count even before this latest victory. But Sunday was another example of Thomas' ability both win against a strong field and do so without his best stuff. This was not the clinical performance from the Sony Open in January, or even the flawless close with which he won the PGA.

But Thomas never wavered, and he barely flinched after a trip to the easy par-5 third hole ended in double bogey.

"It wasn't a mental error or a wrong judgment that we made, it was just a bad golf swing at a pretty bad time," he said. "But I mean, I knew you're going to make bogeys out here today."

It's a testament to the growth he has experienced over the last year that Thomas is now able to effectively shoulder the burden of being the guy with a target on his back. And while he reiterated that he plans to keep his 2018 goals a private matter, it's likely that Thomas will have plenty more opportunities with the tournament resting on his club face in the coming months.

"You give one of the best players in the world a chance like that, he's probably going to take advantage of it," Leishman said shortly after rinsing his final approach.

Thomas will now take a well-deserved respite, the highlight of which might be the honoring of his 2017 accolades during the upcoming football game between LSU and his alma mater, Alabama. And this won't be the last time we see him on a course this year, as he is among the 16 confirmed entrants for the Hero World Challenge in December.

But afforded an opportunity to reflect, both on the week and the steady ascent that has brought him to these heights, Thomas opted to exhale.

"I'm really excited to do nothing for a while," he said.

Thomas was already the most decorated player on Tour this year even before he landed in South Korea. But it seems only fitting that he found a way to close a torrid, 365-day stretch - one that has transformed both his perception and position among the game's elite - with one more win.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."