At the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Justin Thomas stood fourth on the Official World Golf Ranking.
At this year’s edition, he stands fourth again.
But what happened between then and now was not a standstill. Thomas dealt with a wrist injury that led to a withdrawal from May’s PGA Championship. He competed in the other three majors, but never cracked the top 10 and missed the cut in the U.S. Open.
Thomas dropped to 10th in the world following the first FedExCup Playoff event. And then, for the first time in 12 months, he won a title.
Thomas captured the BMW Championship, and followed that by winning the CJ Cup three starts later. Just like that, he was back inside the OWGR top 5, reminding everyone who might have forgotten that few are better when things are clicking.
“I wouldn't say anybody slept on me last year,” Thomas said Tuesday at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. “I didn't play very well to start the year, and I didn't – I hadn't won at all, and I dropped five to 10 in the world rankings, so there's a lot of people that were playing better than me and winning more tournaments.
“Yeah, I could have been a pity party and asked for more attention, but I definitely didn't deserve anything special.”
“Special” would describe Thomas’ previous two seasons on Tour. He won five times in 2017 and twice more in 2018. Along the way, he became a major champions, PGA Tour Player of the Year and world No. 1.
Part of that success happened in Hawaii, where he won the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open in back-to-back weeks in 2017. When the man gets hot, he stays hot.
The problem last year was that he couldn’t get that necessary spark. He finished inside the top 3 in three of his first four 2019 starts, but the injury severely stalled him. Upon his return, it was mostly middling results until his breakthrough at Medinah.
“Even with the injury happening, I tried to stay patient, and I was glad to see it kind of come back to how it felt like it should have been at the end of the year,” Thomas said.
Now 26, Thomas is more established veteran than new kid on the block. That latter association goes to the likes of Matthew Wolff, 20, and Collin Morikawa, 22, who are in this week’s winners-only field.
“It is crazy. I mean, I still think I'm very young. I mean, 26 years old. But in terms of guys that are out here, I'm definitely not the young one anymore,” Thomas said. “It is kind of nuts how fast it's gone by. I think when you don't have that time, that couple months to just kind of relax and do whatever, when it's kind of bang-bang-bang from January to December, it goes by pretty fast.”
That may be in Thomas’ favor this week. Given his history of riding hot streaks, jumping back in the mix at Kapalua – where he has gone T-21, win, T-22, third in four starts – might be a good thing.
Each season, Thomas types professional goals into his phone’s notebook. At the end of the campaign, he shows it to the public. There were more N’s than Y’s for 2018-19.
The 2019-20 season is off to a good start with one victory in two official starts. No doubt, he’s seeking more major success and a return to world No. 1.
“I'm disappointed I haven't achieved more to be honest until this far. I shouldn't say disappointed, but I mean, I'm obviously very – I'm pleased with my career thus far, but I feel like I could have and should have won a lot more tournaments and definitely should have contended and won some more majors. So that's just my opinion,” he said.
“I mean, all the motivation I need to get to No. 1 in the world is in myself. I don't need to try to prove anybody wrong. I don't need to do it because people said I can't. Because I want to be there is big enough motivation for me.”