Winner: Justin Thomas
Justin Thomas’s cakewalk was quickly turning to crumbs.
He’d entered the final round of the BMW Championship with a six-shot lead, and although no lead is ever completely safe, there is a certain sense of comfort in a cushion of that generous size. But Thomas surely felt a sense of urgency rising when in a span of only three holes around the final turn, Patrick Cantlay had beaten that six-shot cushion down to two.
“Patrick played unbelievably, put a lot of heat on me,” Thomas said. “In the end, it could have been good for me. It kept me focused, kept my head down. I remembered that it’s really hard to win a golf tournament.” Yes, grizzled old veteran that he was, he remembered how hard it was. All of 26, and on the PGA Tour these five years, and he’d just scored his 10th win. Of course, he’d just gone a whole year without one, thanks in large part to a wrist injury. And now he’d come to the BMW at famed Medinah as pretty much his old self, winning the second of the three-tournament FedExCup Playoffs. Thomas shared the first-round lead, then fell behind by two at the halfway point on his 65-69 start.
Then he rocketed into the six-stroke lead with an 11-under 61. He raced off with birdies on the first five holes, his shortest putt 19 inches after pitching on at the par-five fifth, and the longest from 15 feet. He took his only bogey at No. 6, then crafted the jewel of his round, an eagle at the par-five 10th, slashing a five wood from 260 yards to three feet. He also eagled the par-four 16th, holing out from 180 yards. “It’s fun to watch,” said Tony
Finau, his playing partner. “Whenever you see a guy playing that well in a zone — really cool.” The 61 gave Thomas a 21-under 195, six ahead of Cantlay and Finau, who both shot 68.
”It doesn’t matter what golf course it is,” Thomas said. “You give us soft, good greens and soft fairways, we’re going to tear it apart. It’s just how it is.” Records showed that since 1928 — 91 years ago — only seven players had lost a six-shot lead. Cantlay did his best to make it eight. After a bogey- birdie start, he sprinted to four straight birdies from No. 7. Thomas bogeyed the first, and after two birdies, bogeyed the 10th, having to hit left-handed from behind a tree, while Cantlay wedged to five feet and birdied. Cantlay had cut Thomas’s lead from six to two. Thomas picked up a stroke with a birdie at the 11th, on a wedge to two feet, and both birdied 13 and 15. Then Thomas’s lead went back to four when Cantlay got tangled in the rough at 16 and bogeyed. But Cantlay birdied the last two from 19 and 38 feet for a 65 and finished three behind. “When you’re as far behind as you are,” he said, “you kind of need everything to go right.’’
Hideki Matsuyama raced home with his second 63 of the tournament and finished third, five behind, and Finau fought his putter for a 69 and was fourth, seven back.
As for Thomas, the question was on his outlook for the Tour Championship the next week. “I’m going to try not to look at the leaderboards for the first couple days and just try to shoot as low as I can,” he said. “I know if I shoot a lower score than anybody over 72 holes I’ll be fine.”