Early returns are favorable for Justin Thomas at Valspar Championship

PALM HARBOR — Less than a week after missing the cut at the Players Championship, Justin Thomas thinks his patience is going to pay off.

Coming into the Valspar Championship, the two-time major champion is ranked 28th and has failed to make the cut in two of his last three tournaments.

But Thomas has fared well on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook in recent years, tying for 10th last year and third in 2022. Toward the end of his first round at the Valspar on Thursday, Thomas was rewarded with birdies on the final two holes to finish 3-under 68 and tied for 13th.

Thomas will begin the second round Friday four back of the leader, Kevin Streelman, who shot 7-under 64. Defending champ Taylor Moore was at 2 under.

“I salvaged and scrambled really well, I felt like,” Thomas said. “I just tried to make it as easy on myself as possible, especially around here. But just until you get into a little bit of a rhythm, I feel like once you start trying to push it a little out here, you can start kind of making a lot of bogeys and big numbers.

“So I just tried to stay patient all day. Hit a lot of really good putts that just burned the edge and didn’t go in, so it was nice to get the last two and see the patience pay off.”

Thomas, who came in as a favorite to win by many oddsmakers, finished strong with a 195-yard tee shot that settled about 26 inches from the hole. He tapped that in for birdie on the par-3 No. 8.

On No. 9, Thomas hit a 303-yard tee shot, a 113-yard approach and rolled in a nearly 12-foot putt to finish the round.

“That’s the thing about this course is, if you do drive it well, you do have some pretty scorable clubs with how receptive the greens are right now,” he said.

Last season, Thomas really struggled, going without a win on the PGA Tour. He missed qualifying for the FedEx Playoffs for the first time in his career. And he had to rely on a captain’s pick to qualify for the Ryder Cup.

The 30-year old started out with three top-12 finishes in 2024, including a tie for third at the American Express in La Quinta, California. After that, however, Thomas failed to make the cut at the Genesis Invitational. He tied for 12th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, and then missed the cut again at the Players.

It has been a process.

“It was just one of those weeks where I had a couple of putts here and there, just really one or two bad swings each day, that took away from, I feel like, a majority of really good golf throughout the (Players Championship’s) entire round. But it’s also just kind of a funky place,” Thomas said of TPC Sawgrass. “You can get some weird bounces and breaks and lies and whatnot, and it just was one of those years. So, yeah, I had a weekend of no golf because of it.”

And the Copperhead Course is a place where Thomas thinks he can put things together.

“I like this place a lot. I think it’s a great, very underrated golf course we play,” Thomas said. “It’s a good kind of testament to you don’t necessarily need length for a place to be difficult. You have to drive it well out here. The greens are small, and hitting to them, you just need to have control of your ball.

“It can get windy out here, and in the trees it can just kind of bounce around. So you need to kind of place your way around. And if you’re playing well, you can make some birdies, but bogey lurks kind of at every swing.

“So it’s a good week to stay patient.”