SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Justin Thomas has shown an incredible ability to finish off golf tournaments in his young PGA Tour career, winning nine times before age 26, including a major. But when it comes to the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Thomas has yet to convert an affinity for the course into success.
That was never more apparent than last year’s T-17 finish, where Thomas took himself out of the tournament with just three holes. In his opening round, Thomas roared to a 6 under start at TPC Scottsdale before double-bogeying the par-3 16th and following with bogey at the short par-4 17th. Two rounds later, Thomas incited a 59 watch with six straight birdies to start his day. But a triple bogey at the par-5 15th and another double at No. 16 cost him dearly.
“The thing about this course, I haven't played it that great, even though I like it tee to green,” said Thomas, who has two top-20s but also a pair of missed cuts in four Phoenix starts. “I feel like it suits my game, but I just have kind of have had a round here or there and a couple holes. And you just have to stay patient because you can get on a pretty good roll out here.”
Like the one Thomas was able to get on Thursday at TPC Scottsdale. After starting on No. 10 and making just one birdie in his first eight holes, Thomas rattled off six birdies in his next seven holes, beginning at the par-4 18th. This time, however, he didn’t give anything back.
Thomas’ opening 7-under 64 had him tied with Rickie Fowler, whom he’s staying with this week, for the lead after the morning wave.
“I was in control of everything tee to green,” said Thomas, who gained nearly five strokes [against the field] on approach shots Thursday. “I didn't necessarily get off to the greatest start score-wise, but I felt like I was playing well and just kind had a couple holes there in the beginning, those front pins were tucked pins. … It was very, very hard to get the balls close to the pin early in the round. But just continued to try to stay patient and was driving it well to where I had wedges and I made some very low-stress birdies out there.”
Thomas said four of his birdies came after approach shots between 126 and 131 yards, or perfect gap-wedge distance, and he benefitted from several right hole locations, which played right into his stock cut.
“That's just one of those things when you're playing well the ball seems to get there,” Thomas said. “When you're not playing well you seem to be between clubs a lot and I was fortunate to get those holes.”
Thomas enters this week with two top-5s in four starts this season. He hasn’t won, though, which marks the first time since his rookie year that he hadn’t entered the new year with a victory.
“I understand you're not going to win every tournament,” Thomas said. “Guys like Bryson, on the run he's on, stuff like that happens, but I just have to stay patient and wait for it to happen.”