The wild ride of Justin Thomas at The Players Championship
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. (AP) About three months before Justin Thomas had his big end to a great year, he sought some advice from Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy was honest, as always, and showed just how much he pays attention.
Thomas missed the 54-hole cut at The Players Championship with a 79 in the third round, but it was his scorecard at the end of the first round and start of the second round that illustrated some of his issues.
He had a 19-hole stretch that he played in even par – despite making only one par.
Starting on the 12th hole of the first round, he went birdie-bogey-bogey-bogey-eagle-birdie-bogey to cap off a 73. He returned the next day and started the second round on No. 10 and went bogey-bogey-bogey-par-birdie-birdie-birdie-bogey-double bogey, made the turn and started birdie-birdie-birdie. He shot 71.
McIlroy played with him the opening two rounds.
”I wasn’t playing well last year,” Thomas said. ”I texted Rory – we’ve played a decent amount of tournament golf – and said, `What do you see that’s holding me back?’ He said something funny.”
Thomas scrolled through his phone to find the message.
Along with some things that Thomas chose to keep private, he read the following from McIlroy: ”You have the ability to hit every shot perfect, obviously, but it doesn’t always work out. And weeks like last week, that’s why you’ll get 19 holes and make one par.”
There was a deeper message he picked up from those around at the end of the year, and one message from caddie Jimmy Johnson stands out.
”Wait for good things to happen,” Thomas said.
It’s a strategy that has carried him to a strong start this year. He has yet to finish worse than a tie for 22nd in his nine individual tournaments. And he hopes to apply it to The Players Championship this week.
”You could easily be even for 27 or 30 holes, middle of the pack, get on a run and the next thing you know you’re in the tournament,” Thomas said. ”Just wait for something good to happen. It’s taken a while for me to figure that out. I’m wanting to go, go, go.”
MICKELSON’S MOTIVATION: Phil Mickelson won for the 43rd time on the PGA Tour with his playoff victory in the Mexico Championship.
His goal is to get to 50, and Mickelson is certain he will get there.
For now, he has a keepsake for the most recent victory – a note from former President George W. Bush.
”One of the coolest things that happened after I won Mexico is I got a note from President Bush 43,” Mickelson said. ”And he said, `43 has a great ring to it.’ I just thought that was one of the coolest things that that came from that, and one of the most memorable.”
And no, he doesn’t feel he’s done yet.
One of the more amazing traits of Mickelson is how he has kept his enthusiasm for 27 years playing the PGA Tour. The Players Championship is his 684th start worldwide, which doesn’t include the World Cup, the Dunhill Cup or the 23 teams in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
He doesn’t see himself retiring any time soon.
”The thing that I use to judge that is my motivation,” Mickelson said. ”So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to work harder to be able to maintain the physical ability to go practice as hard as I want to and recover and so forth. So I’ve had to make more sacrifices than I did 15 years ago. However, my body feels as good or better than it did back then, and I’m able to swing the club as well or better than I did.
”I’m looking forward to and honestly believe that the next couple years are going to be some of my best.”
UNDER THE RADAR: One of the advantages of having Tiger Woods back on the PGA Tour is taking some of the spotlight off other players.
Jordan Spieth didn’t feel that at Innisbrook, where he played with Woods and missed the cut. But he did at the Masters.
”I felt I was under the radar at the Masters for the first time in my career – well, since 2014, my first one – and I think that was in large part due to Tiger being there and the lead-up that he had into it. I thought that maybe made it a little bit easier to just kind of go about my business.”
That’s saying a lot for Spieth considering he has had a chance on Sunday to win at the Masters all five years he has played.
The Players Championship is only the fourth tournament he has played with Woods in the field. Spieth is playing with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, a star attraction at any tournament except maybe one that has Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler in the same group.
They are on opposite sides of the draw.
PLAYING WITH TIGER: Masters champion Patrick Reed doesn’t get to hang with the cool kids at The Players Championship.
One group has Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler. Another has Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas. Reed still has notable players in his group – Jon Rahm and Hideki Matsuyama – but maybe not the most attention.
The bad news?
”If you don’t feel too comfortable over the driver, you have some people to stop that golf ball for you before it goes out of bounds,” he said.
The good news? At least his wife will be able to watch. Reed played with Woods and U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka last week at Quail Hollow.
”Justine said she probably saw maybe 35 percent of the shots we hit. And when I say we, I’m talking about the whole group,” Reed said of his wife. ”She didn’t see very much of what I hit, she didn’t see very much of Tiger or Brooks. With how hard she works, it’s always nice for her to be able to see what we’re doing.”
DIVOTS: Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk is hosting potential team members for dinner at his house in Ponte Vedra Beach. … The Official World Golf Ranking technical committee and board has decided the OneAsia tour will no longer be considered an OWGR eligible tour. … The Players Championship has in its field all of the top 50 in the world ranking. The last tournament to have that was the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. … Among those at the TPC Sawgrass on Tuesday was Pernilla Lindberg of Sweden, who won the first LPGA Tour major of the year at the ANA Inspiration. … Peter Uihlein tied for fifth last week at Quail Hollow, which moved him up 11 spots to No. 55 in the world. He has to stay in the top 60 in two weeks to be exempt for the U.S. Open and British Open.
STAT OF THE WEEK
First prize at The Players Championship is $1,890,000. That’s more than the total purse at 18 official events on the European Tour schedule.
FINAL WORD: ”You might see two or three world No. 1s by the end of the year.” – Jordan Spieth.