MEDINAH, Ill. – Thanks to a dominating weekend performance at Medinah Country Club, Justin Thomas will head to the Tour Championship as the man to beat.
Thomas started the final round of the BMW Championship with a six-shot lead after shattering the course record with a third-round 61, and while things got a little more interesting than he would have preferred he still managed to win the season’s penultimate event by three shots over Patrick Cantlay. It means that Thomas, not Player of the Year frontrunner Brooks Koepka, will tee off at East Lake with a two-shot lead at 10 under using the Tour’s new staggered scoring format.
Thomas bogeyed the opening hole Sunday, and he nearly found disaster on the par-5 10th when a double-crossed 3-wood was kept in bounds only after bouncing off a boundary fence. But the former world No. 1 steadied his nerve from there, curling in four birdies over his final eight holes to keep at bay the charges of Cantlay and third-place Hideki Matsuyama, who closed with a 63.
The win was the 10th of Thomas’ career, and his first since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational more than a year ago.
“It’s been awhile,” Thomas said. “It’s always easy when things are going well. When your back is up against the wall, or when you get pressured or put a little heat on you, I think how you respond is sometimes a little bit better or shows a little bit more.”
Thomas won the FedExCup two years ago to cap a remarkable season that included five wins and his maiden major. Now he’ll begin the 30-man event with a quantified advantage, two shots clear of Cantlay, three clear of third-place Koepka and 10 shots ahead of Nos. 26-30 in the standings.
“Definitely beats the position I was in at the beginning of this week,” Thomas said. “I can certainly say, a thousand percent, I’ve never slept on a Wednesday lead. But I’m definitely excited for that, and I’m just going to try to win the golf tournament as if everybody starts at zero.”
Thomas suffered a wrist injury earlier this year, one that led him to withdraw from both the Wells Fargo Championship, where he won his PGA title, and the PGA Championship at Bethpage. Thomas expressed at the time that those decisions were made out of an abundance of caution, and that strategy appears to have paid off based on the torrid stretch with which he has closed the season.
Thomas has channeled his 2017 form in recent weeks, finishing T-12 or better in each of his last four starts. And that was before he bent Medinah to his will, shooting 15 under par over his final 36 holes on a course with a major pedigree.
“I just kept telling myself I was beating everything by six through three rounds with a very mediocre Friday,” Thomas said. “I felt I was playing better than everybody else, and I felt that I was and I felt that I was good enough that I was going to be just fine. You’re going to have bogeys.”
Now Thomas will make the trek south to Atlanta, where two years ago he won the season-long prize but not the Tour Championship title. With the two trophies now unified under the Tour’s new scoring format, he’s eager to head into uncharted waters equipped with an enviable position at the top.
“I truly have no idea. There’s nobody in the history of this sport that has experienced it, so nobody knows,” Thomas said. “I don’t know if it’s going to be weird. It’s going to be different, I know.”