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Tight-lipped Thomas' No. 1 goal should be obvious

By Rex HoggardFebruary 27, 2018, 9:53 pm

MEXICO CITY – It wasn’t the moment Justin Thomas’ legend was born, but it certainly added to the young man’s lore.

For months, Thomas had been asked his goals for the 2017 season and for months he’d offered only vague answers.

Every time he was asked for specifics, he would politely decline, explaining that they were personal. That was until his runner-up finish at the Tour Championship propelled him to his first FedExCup title and he finally relented.

Thomas flashed his cellphone to reporters and started reading what turned out to be a lengthy list: win at least once, be in the final two groups of a major on Sunday, win a major, make the U.S. Presidents Cup team, finish in the top 30 in scrambling, etc.

Back in 2015, your scribe had a similar conversation with then-Tour rookie Thomas. Again he offered only oblique responses, revealing a telling part of a detail-oriented mind.

Now fast forward to Tuesday’s press conference at the WGC-Mexico Championship. Once again he was asked about his goals, but this time the circumstances suggested a new answer, even if Thomas’ response was predictable.

Do you have a date set to reach world No. 1?

“Whenever and if ever that day comes, I'll be perfectly fine with that date,” he smiled. “You can't control what other people can do; I can only control what I can do and the work that I'm putting in. So I'm going to continue to practice and prepare and get myself as ready as possible to keep climbing the rankings every way that I can.”

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Mathematically, Thomas’ point is valid.

With his playoff victory on Sunday over Luke List at the Honda Classic, Thomas jumped past Jordan Spieth to third in the Official World Golf Ranking, just behind No. 2 Jon Rahm and 1.93 average ranking points behind No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

To put that in context, he can’t overtake Johnson this week even with a victory against a world-class field in Mexico (where he finished tied for fifth last year). Nor does it seem like Johnson is anywhere close to giving up his reign, having won the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month and finishing second at Pebble Beach.

But at this juncture, it’s not when Thomas may be able to ascend to the top spot that’s important, it’s what he needs to do to get there.

Like the majority of those goals on his list last year, becoming world No. 1 is as nebulous as, say, finishing in the top 30 in scrambling. But when it comes to specific ambitions, it’s the hundreds of little things that it would take to achieve those goals that will equate to success, not the actual accomplishment.

As clichéd as it sounds, it’s the journey, not the destination, particularly when the distance between victory and a tie for 10th is a missed putt on Thursday morning or an ill-timed gust of wind on Sunday afternoon.

It should be no surprise, but Thomas adheres to a strict policy when it comes to victories.

“I've always liked what [Alabama] coach [Nick] Saban says. They have the 48-hour rule at Alabama. They get to enjoy their win and then it's on to the next one,” said Thomas, who played college golf at Alabama. “That's in the past and all you can focus and work on is your process and getting ready for the next event.”

Following Sunday’s victory at PGA National, he enjoyed an impromptu dinner celebration with some family and friends at The Woods Jupiter, Tiger Woods’ South Florida restaurant, before catching his flight to Mexico with a clean slate.

Finding motivation has never been difficult for Thomas, even after winning five times last season and claiming his first major at the PGA Championship. But when you start collecting titles at the clip he’s been on the last year or so there’s always the danger of complacency, and now that he’s moved to the world ranking doorstep, ascending to No. 1 fits perfectly with Thomas’ play and his long-term plans.

Even if that means he holds the top spot for just a single week, it’s a goal that is at once simple and sustainable.

“It is bizarre just because there's so many players right now, and there always is, but so many players right now that can kind of change that,” Thomas said of the world ranking. “To do what anybody who's hung in there for a year like DJ has is extremely impressive. But just the fact that if and when it does happen, to be able to say that you have been [world No. 1], is a pretty cool accomplishment.”

To be clear, his system has worked flawlessly to this point, but whatever list of goals Thomas concocted for 2018 and thumbed into the notes app on his cellphone, there’s one accomplishment that would check all the right boxes – becoming world No. 1.

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Fleetwood fires 63, waits to see if score is enough

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 8:52 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open, and just the second to do it in the final round. Now he waits.

Fleetwood teed off almost 2 ½ hours before – and six strokes behind – the leaders at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, but stormed into the hunt thanks to four consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole. The Englishman’s round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.

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Fleetwood finished at 2 over par – after missing a 9-foot putt for birdie and 62 at the 18th – which was tied for second place and one stroke off the lead held by Brooks Koepka when he completed his round.

After speaking with the media, Fleetwood went to the locker room to await a possible playoff, which was changed this year from an 18-hole overtime to just two holes of aggregate play.

“We'll go and relax a little bit and just see,” said Fleetwood, who rolled in 159 feet of birdies putts. “Only time will tell what's going to happen today at the course. If it was like yesterday, I'd feel a little more comfortable than now.”

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Fowler follows 84 with 65, praises Shinnecock setup

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 5:44 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – As promised, the USGA dialed back Shinnecock Hills for Sunday’s final round, watering the greens overnight and deferring to more user-friendly hole locations.

The evidence of this was on the leaderboard, with four early finishers having shot under-par rounds, including Rickie Fowler, who closed with a round-of-the-week 65. There were just three under-par cards on Saturday.

“That's the golf course I enjoy playing. Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer,” said Fowler, who had just one bogey on Sunday and opened his day with a 4-under 31 on his opening nine. “The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we'll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that's for sure.”

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It was a 19-stroke turnaround for Fowler, who ballooned to a third-round 84 on Day 3 during what most contend were the week’s toughest conditions. Fowler had put himself into contention going into the weekend thanks to a second-round 69, but struggled on Saturday afternoon like much of the field.

Fowler said the setup was vastly different to what players faced on Saturday and that even if the winds increase for the afternoon tee times the course will remain playable, unlike Round 3 when many players said the USGA “lost” the golf course.

“They did a good job of staying safe,” Fowler said, “because if it does dry out, it will still be very playable.”

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Phil celebrates par on 13, ducks media after round

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 5:35 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson didn’t have another meltdown at the U.S. Open.

Back on the 13th green Sunday – less than 24 hours after taking a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball and recording a sextuple-bogey 10 – Mickelson poured in a 10-footer and raised his arms in mock triumph, as if he’d finally won that elusive major title.

Not quite.

He’d simply made par.

“It looked like he won the Masters,” said playing partner Rickie Fowler. “He didn’t jump, but he had a little celebration there.”

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The par save and the final-round 69 were one of the lone bright spots during what was an adventurous week for Lefty, even by his unpredictable standards. Mickelson’s shocking swat was still the talk of this Open, especially after USGA executive director Mike Davis revealed Saturday night that Mickelson had called him to ask for more clarification on the rule he said that he knew he’d broken.

Despite some calls for him to withdraw from the tournament, Mickelson displayed his usual cheerful demeanor inside the ropes with Fowler.

“He joked about it right as we went down the first hole,” Fowler said.

Fowler said that he didn’t know “if I would have had the wits like Phil to run after it” on 13, but added that it never should have come to that in the first place.

“He could have saved himself a shot by just letting it go and taking unplayable, but then that would still look pretty funny too,” he said. “The course shouldn’t play that way.”

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

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USGA slows greens, alters hole locations for Sunday

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 3:29 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After admitting that it went too far with the setup Saturday at the U.S. Open, USGA officials made some modifications for the final round.

In a statement released Sunday morning, the USGA said that it watered Shinnecock Hills’ greens an “appropriate level” and slowed down the surfaces nearly a foot on the Stimpmeter.

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That was in anticipation of a sunny, dry forecast that calls for temperatures to reach 80 degrees and wind gusts up to 20 mph.

They said the setup for the final day is similar to what was used in Round 1, when officials braced for 30-mph winds.

Some of the hole locations were also adjusted based on the forecast – changes, the USGA said, that were meant to “maintain a challenge yet fair U.S. Open test.”