• JT claims first 2020 title

    Justin Thomas
    Big smiles

    Justin Thomas threw away his lead in regulation play but produced the goods to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the second time at the third playoff hole.

    Thomas needed a superb wedge to three feet for birdie to beat Patrick Reed at Kapalua.

    It was almost the playoff that never was after defending champion Xander Schauffele three-putted from 35 feet for par to bring Thomas and Reed into the frame.

    It was the first three-man playoff since the winners-only PGA TOUR event moved to Kapalua in 1999. Reed had two putts on the 18th in the playoff to win. Thomas, who narrowly cleared the hazard with his second shot on the final hole of the week, hit a high wedge that landed perfectly with enough spin and rolled out to three feet.

    Reed had eight feet for birdie and hit it too hard, leading to a two-putt par and Thomas victory.

    ‘For some reason, I was supposed to win this week,’ Thomas said. ‘I got very lucky to even have that putt.’

    Thomas jumped into the top spot in the FedExCup standings with the win. He closed with a four-under 69 after bogeys on two of his last three holes and won for the third time in his last six starts on the PGA TOUR. It was his 12th career victory, one more than Jordan Spieth and the most of any active player under 30.

    Thomas played the 18th hole four times, and mostly had his head bowed and hat removed, waiting for the end that never came.

    Thomas hit a terrible tee shot in regulation, and the 3-wood that followed didn’t carry in the knee-high vegetation. He took a penalty drop, hit wedge to eight feet and missed the par putt. Schauffele, who closed with a 70, hit the green in two and had 35 feet for eagle. The 30-mph gusts helped send his first putt seven feet by the hole, and he missed the birdie putt in his bid to become the first player in 10 years to win back to back at Kapalua.

    Schauffele was eliminated after the first hole when he three-putted from 100 feet away at the front of the green, leaving his first putt 20 feet short.

    ‘I should have won the tournament,’ said Schauffele, bidding to become the first back-to-back winner at Kapalua in 10 years. ‘JT was right there. But under the circumstances, I should have closed it out. I did everything I was supposed to until the last moment.’

    Reed made an early run and matched the low score of the tournament with a 66. He was never part of the lead until nearly an hour after he made a 20-foot birdie putt on the final hole. He finished at 14 under 278, which looked as though it would not be good enough.

    Thomas had a two-shot lead when he swirled in a 3-foot birdie putt on the 15th hole, and then he came undone. His tee shot on the 16th found a bunker, and he missed an eight-foot par putt. Thomas holed a six-foot par putt on the next hole, lightly fist pumping because he kept a one-shot lead with the par-five 18th remaining.

    And then he gave it away with an 18th hole he called a ‘disaster’.

    For a moment, he thought he had wasted one of the best rounds he had ever played. He ran off six birdies in eight holes to turn a two-shot deficit into a two-shot lead, an astounding display given the strength of the wind.

    ‘That stretch of holes JT went through, I’d like to see anyone else try it,’ Schauffele said. ‘He was hitting ridiculous shots, making good putts in the wind, and he deserved the lead he got.’

    Ultimately, Thomas got the victory that took longer than he might have expected.

    Reed kept the final day from turning into a two-man race when he opened with three birdies in six holes to join the chase. And then he briefly appeared to be the biggest challenger when he hit an approach into a 30-mph gust of wind to six feet for birdie, followed by two more bold shots that led to birdie.

    He never caught up because Thomas kept making birdies, too. After a long two-putt on the par-five 9th for birdie to take the lead for the first time, Thomas holed a 15-foot birdie on the 10th, and his 9-iron rode a strong right-to-left wind to five feet for birdie on the picturesque par-three 11th.

    Dylan Frittelli ended his week with a 75 and 31st place alone.

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