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POY Thomas even better in 2018? ... 'Yeah'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 26, 2018, 1:16 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Armed with an Eskimo Joe’s cooler in his left hand, Rickie Fowler waited behind PGA National’s 18th green for a karmic celebration.

About an hour earlier, Fowler hit the road with girlfriend Allison Stokke and drove an exit south on the Turnpike. It was nearly the identical, 25-minute drive that Thomas made last year, when he missed the cut at the Honda Classic but came back to congratulate Fowler.

Now, it was Fowler’s turn to return the favor, after Thomas prevailed in a playoff Sunday over Luke List.

“It’s cool to be able to do this for each other,” Fowler said. “He’s playing all right. It’s been a good little stretch for the last two years.”

A good little stretch, indeed – this was Thomas’ seventh victory in his last 31 starts. That torrid stretch has not only vaulted him to the top of the list of Masters favorites – again – but into the PGA Tour record books, becoming just the third player in the past 30 years with eight Tour titles before the age of 25.

Asked if he believes he’s playing better than last season, Thomas replied: “Yeah, I do. I feel very confident in pretty much every part of my game right now. I feel like my game is in a very good spot at the moment.”


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After that five-win season, Thomas consulted his peers (including pal Jordan Spieth) on how to manage expectations for the following year, how to avoid suffering a letdown.

Thomas kept rolling last fall with a win in Korea, but this spring he admitted to feeling some stress, rattling off three consecutive top-20s but coming undone with a poor stretch of holes each weekend.

“This definitely takes the pressure off me,” said Thomas, who leapfrogged Spieth to become the third-ranked player in the world.

“I’ve been happy with how consistent I’ve been, but without any wins, I’m constantly being reminded. It’s nice to get it a little bit off my back.”

Thomas has built his reputation on being a birdie machine and one of the Tour’s most explosive players, his awesome power belying his bite-sized frame. But these past six months have proved he’s not all flash. To win the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow, he conquered one of the most difficult closing stretches in golf. To win the CJ Cup in Korea, he fought through exhaustion to knock off a red-hot Marc Leishman.

And then there was the test this week at PGA National, annually ranked as one of the most difficult regular-season stops on Tour. All week players contended with gusty winds that brought the Champion Course’s myriad hazards into play, and with sand-filled greens that made chipping and putting a guessing game.

Thomas ranks 125th on Tour in driving accuracy, but he never took a penalty stroke this week.

“He just didn’t make any mistakes,” said his father/swing coach, Mike Thomas. “Out here there’s a triple behind every swing. He just didn’t make that mistake.”

It was smart, not conservative, play that won him this title. Thomas stuffed a wedge on 13 for birdie. He went flag-hunting again on 16. And after laying up on 18 following a drive into the right rough, he stiffed a 117-yard gap wedge that was enough to force a playoff with List.

On the first extra hole, List went right off the tee and then left with his approach, up against the grandstand. Even with his opponent out of position, Thomas didn’t change his plans. He grabbed 5-wood, needing 239 yards to cover the front and 259 to the flag.

It was getting so dark that Thomas couldn’t follow his ball in the air, so he looked at the pond fronting the green, waiting to see if there was a splash.

“I knew as long as I didn’t completely whiff it, I was going to get it over the water where I was looking,” he said.

His shot landed on the green and rolled out to 40 feet, setting up a two-putt birdie for the victory.

“You can’t really play defensive,” Fowler said. “I know JT isn’t scared to win. He was taking the chance. Sometimes you’ve got to take the chance of securing the win for yourself. The wins out here, they’re not given to you. You’ve got to earn them, and JT has earned quite a few over the past 18 months.”

The party Sunday night at The Woods Jupiter won’t get too rowdy – both Thomas and Fowler are playing in the Seminole Pro-Member on Monday morning, followed by a 2 p.m. flight to Mexico for next week’s World Golf Championships event.

“We’ll celebrate a little,” Fowler said. “It’s obviously a satisfying win for him. I know how it feels.”

Tucked in Fowler’s cooler was a special bottle of beer, but neither player would divulge the details of their inside joke. Fowler said only that it's "something he'll like."

“Maybe we can keep this little thing going,” he said. “I just need him to miss the cut next year.”

The way Thomas has been rolling, Fowler shouldn’t count on it.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


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Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.