PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas likes where his game is trending.
He said that on the eve of the Honda Classic.
With the Masters just six weeks away, that’s where trends are aimed as the Florida swing makes its start.
Thomas made another encouraging move Thursday to get his game ready for a chance at winning back-to-back major championships.
A 3-under-par 67 moved him a shot off the lead in the first round at PGA National’s Champion Course.
Thomas, who won five times on his way to winning PGA Tour Player of the Year honors last season, is feeling something special brewing as he seeks to claim his first title of this calendar year.
“I've been playing well all year,” Thomas said. “Just haven't had much to show for it. I feel like I'm close to reeling off a couple tournaments here. I just need to stay patient.”
Thomas put together a strong start playing in a pairing in front of Tiger Woods, a spot that comes with challenges, with galleries on the move setting up to watch Woods.
Thomas, who played with fans causing problems at Riviera last week, said galleries weren’t an issue.
The Honda Classic isn’t a major, but it looks like it will present the sternest test of the year so far.
The Champion Course is always a brute, but it sets up as a particularly grueling test this year, with Florida’s winter winds blowing briskly right from Thursday morning’s start.
“It was a very tough day out there, very windy, tough crosswinds,” Thomas said. “I was a little bummed to see that the weather showed a little bit more wind in the morning than the afternoom.”
The course is also playing firmer and faster than it typically does.
Thomas, 24, confirmed how solid his ball striking is in a round of six birdies and three bogeys.
“The players know it's a tough golf course,” Jack Nicklaus said earlier this week. “It's going to be a handfull this week, with a dry golf course. This golf course plays much more difficult when it's dry ... and it's a little breezy.
“You're going to see some very interesting rounds. You might hear a couple complaints.”
Not from Thomas, who lives in nearby Jupiter.
“Any time you're even or better on this course, on a day like today, was definitely positive,” he said.
Thomas’ 67 is confirmation his game is shaping up for the test at Augusta National, where he will be looking to add a green jacket to the Wanamaker Trophy he won at the PGA Championship last August.
“I love where my game is trending for Augusta,” Thomas said Wednesday. ”I feel like I'm getting, just very, very slowly, better every week ... I'm improving on the things I need to improve on.”
A victory would be the ultimate confirmation he’s getting major championship ready.
“I'd like to have a chance to win one of these next three events before Augusta,” he said.
Thomas is coming off a tie for ninth at the Genesis Open last week. He was T-17 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open before that and T-14 at the Sony Open before that.
Thursday’s round heated up with Thomas making four birdies in the middle of the round. He chipped in for birdie at the seventh (his 16th hole of the day) to get to 4 under before making bogey at the difficult 17th, where he just missed the green short playing into the wind and left his chip 20 feet short.
“I hit probably one of my better shots in the Bear Trap, that just ended up in a horrible lie,” he said.
Thomas headed home eager to keep his promising trend going.
“It's definitely a little better feeling going to sleep and waking up in your own bed,” Thomas said.