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10 keys from the final round of the SBS Tournament of Champions

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Heading into the closing round of the SBS Tournament of Champions, Justin Thomas was leading at 18-under par, two shots better than Hideki Matsuyama. It made sense the two golfers were atop the leaderboard, since they ranked first and second in total strokes gained on the field, respectively, through 54 holes.

In a couple of statistical categories, however, Thomas held a significant edge. For example, while he and Matsuyama were ranked T2 in greens in regulation, having each hit 48 of 54 greens, Thomas was third in driving distance at 310.8 yards; Matsuyama, only 12th at 286.6 yards. Similarly, Thomas ranked fifth in both approach shot proximity to the hole (32 feet 6 inches) and distance of putts made (242 feet 10 inches); Matsuyama, 15th in the former (36 feet 4 inches), and 19th in the latter (191 feet 9 inches).

Were Thomas to maintain those advantages, while going head-to-head with Matsuyama in Sunday’s final group, the SBS Champions might be his to win. And remember, though Matsuyama has won four of his last five worldwide starts, it was Thomas who won the one that got away.

So to Sunday’s 18 holes they went.

1) A half-hour TV drama

In the end, there turned out to be about one half-an-hour of real drama. It unfolded in four acts:

  • First, Matsuyama holed out from 60 feet for an eagle at hole No. 14.
  • Next, Thomas double-bogeyed at No. 15, and what had grown to a five-stroke lead for Thomas was suddenly down to one with three holes to play.
  • Then on No. 16 Thomas missed birdie from 12 feet, but Matsuyama left his chance to tie agonizingly inches short.
  • And finally on No. 17 the curtain came down: from an awkward lie on a downslope, 214 yards out, Thomas conjured up the shot of the week, sticking it to about three feet with a “walk-through” swing that led Mark Immelman, on PGA Tour Radio, to reference Gary Player. After Thomas’ tap-in birdie, Matsuyama’s second three-putt bogey, including his first miss all week from within five feet, ended the drama and sealed the deal.

Related: Justin Thomas Winning WITB

2) Thomas left in admiration

Thomas cut that Gary Player-esque “walk-through” short: the better to admire what he’d wrought. Afterward he told the press that he’d said to his caddie, as the shot headed green-ward, “This is pretty good. Let’s watch this.”

3) Just not Matsuyama’s day

At the start of day four, the tournament had looked as if it might actually be over very early, mainly because Matsuyama failed to apply any significant pressure. After 141 holes without a three-putt, he succumbed at the first and bogeyed; Thomas parred.

Then Matsuyama went par, birdie, bogey, birdie, while Thomas bettered his playing partner by one, going par, birdie, par, birdie. And when Thomas missed his birdie chance at the sixth, Matsuyama’s birdie miss from eight feet seemed a sure sign of its not being his day.

4) McGirt’s rollercoaster ride

Until Thomas’ mishap at No. 15, only William McGirt’s play had raised a serious possibility that the leader might be catchable.

McGirt had gone bogey-free on the final five holes Thursday, all 36 holes Friday and Saturday, and through the first nine on Sunday. The streak had brought him to within three at the turn. But then, a rollercoaster ride: double, birdie, double, par, bogey, birdie, bogey, par, par, to finish with a 4-over 41 on the back, leaving him T9 at 14-under. For the record, McGirt’s wild ride started at No. 10 with the week’s only four-putt.

5) Thomas teaches how to win

Thomas’s victory offered a couple of lessons in how winners win.

For one thing, they keep things in perspective. He told the press post-round that literally his first thought upon awaking on Sunday morning was that the Alabama game was only one more day away.

For another, winners get some lucky breaks. On the ninth, Thomas appeared to have lost his ball off the tee in deep “native area” vegetation, but thanks to a diligent tournament worker Thomas found his errant shot. He then punched out into fairway and eventually managed to salvage par. Who knows what would have happened otherwise.

Thomas also showed how winners are able to put a positive spin on a situation even when it takes a negative turn. Imagine how it might have felt, as Thomas watched Matsuyama with a putt to tie at No. 16, to have had a five-stroke lead disappear in three quick holes. But even if Matsuyama had sunk the putt, Thomas’s view, as he explained in his post-victory press conference, was that he would have taken being even with Hideki in a two-man race with two holes to play at the beginning of the week. The loss of the big lead, in other words, didn’t cause Thomas to panic or get overwhelmed with regret, nor did it get in the way of his making the shot on No. 17 that insured his win.

6) Day’s back

Returning from a three-month layoff, Jason Day finished T12 at 13-under and felt good about “how the back performed,” as he told the press post-round. “To be able to walk around this golf course and play and hit off the awkward lies that we get, it didn’t have an effect on me, which is great.”

7) 400+ on hole No. 7

Long drive of the week: Justin Thomas’s 409-yard Sunday drive at the seventh bested Jimmy Walker’s 408-yarder — with his now-celebrated 42-inch driver — also on No. 7 in round one.

8) Winds up, scores up

There’d only been 11 par-or-over the first three days. On Sunday, there were 10. A change in conditions and a shift in the wind was enough to toughen things up and keep the scoring in check. Only Jordan Spieth and Pat Perez kept their Sunday bogey-free.

9) Spieth goes low

Spieth, the defending champion, matched the best round of the week with an 8-under 65. He was never genuinely in the hunt to catch his close friend Thomas, but he did get to 16-under and solo third. He ranked first in birdies for the week, and first in putts per G.I.R. (1.683).

10) Winning: By the numbers

Some final Thomas stats: He hit 44 of 60 fairways (T17), averaged 301 yards off the tee (T7) and hit 63 of 72 greens in regulation. He ranked third in strokes gained/off the tee (+4.896), fourth in strokes gained/putting (+3.236) and seventh in strokes gained/ approaching the green (+2.392).

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Thomas Meagher is a Pushcart Prize-winning writer who learned the game on the East Coast and now plays the desert courses of the West. He writes on golf and books and whatever else at MeglerOnTee.com.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. 2cheese

    Jan 10, 2017 at 8:34 am

    Fairly certain Spieth tied for 3rd with Moore and Perez…

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Tour News

Tiger Woods fires second-round 76, will miss Genesis Open cut

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Tiger Woods’ trip to Los Angeles is over sooner than he’d hoped. Woods fired a 5-over 76 during the second round of the Genesis Open to miss the presumed cut at Riviera by four strokes (the second round won’t be completed until Saturday morning due to darkness).

Hopes were high Woods would continue to build on a T-23 finish at the Farmers Insurance Open. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as the driving woes that plagued him at Torrey Pines followed him to the Riv, despite changing shafts in his TaylorMade M3.

RELATED: Tiger Woods WITB

Wayward off the tee, Woods made eight bogeys Friday, unable to grind out a decent score as he did with his opening-round 1-over 72. He was unable to rely on his putter the way did in this first round, three-putting back-to-back holes (No. 11 and 12). A stretch of three straight bogeys sunk Woods’ hopes of hanging around for the weekend.

(c/o PGATour.com)

We won’t have to wait long to see the Big Cat back in action, however, as Woods committed to next week’s Honda Classic at PGA National in Florida. Woods most recently put a peg in the ground at the course in 2014, where he ultimately withdrew due to back spasms.

The 79-time PGA Tour winner hasn’t teed it in back-to-back weeks since 2015, so while fans may not be encouraged by his play, at least he continues to be free from any issues with his surgically repaired back.

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Tiger Woods shoots an opening-round 72 (1-over) at the 2018 Genesis Open

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After hitting just 17 fairways all week at the 2018 Farmers Insurance Open, where he finished T23, Tiger Woods switched driver shafts and added 0.75 degrees of loft in his TaylorMade M3 driver ahead of the 2018 Genesis Open this week. He went from using a Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White 70TX shaft, to a Matrix TP6HDe shaft — he used a TP7HDe shaft back in 2015.

So how did the switch work out for him at Riviera CC on Thursday?

Well, he hit driver 9 times during his round of 72 strokes; four went right — one of which got lost in a tree and he had to re-tee — one went left, and four found the fairway. He hit 8-of-14 fairways in total; no Fred Funk, but an improvement. Woods’ bigger issue on Thursday, actually, was that he hit only 7 greens in regulation, leaving himself a few tricky up-and-downs. Despite hitting only 38 percent of greens, Woods managed to make 5 birdies, and he continues displaying prowess on the greens (1.784 Strokes Gained Putting, and 82 feet worth of putts made).

He also showed some flashes of old Tiger with Arnie-esque follow through.

Of course, that means he missed the fairway way right, and he did go onto bogey the hole, but the shot made for some excitement on golf twitter, at least.

According to @RandallMellGC, Tiger described his round in a post-round interview: “I fought hard. I made a few simple, silly mistakes, bad shots here and there, missed on the wrong side, made a few birdies as well. 1-over’s not bad.”

Yea, that’s about right.

Tiger currently sits at T66, and six shots off the leader. Lots of golf to play, but he’ll likely be contending with the cutline come Friday afternoon. How do you think Tiger will finish this week at the 2018 Genesis Open?

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Bill Haas injured in fatal car crash in Los Angeles

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Bill Haas was involved in a fatal car crash in Pacific Palisades, Calif., site of the Genesis Open, Tuesday night.

The 35-year-old was riding in the passenger seat of a Ferrari driven by a member of the family with whom Haas is staying this week. According to LA County fire officials, the Ferrari collided with a BMW driven by a 50-year-old woman. Haas and the driver of the BMW were transported to a local hospital. The 71-year-old male driver of the Ferrari was pronounced dead on the scene.

The Ferrari also reportedly “clipped” a vehicle driven by actor Luke Wilson prior to the rollover. Wilson was not injured, per a police report.

Per PGATour.com, Bill Haas’ manager, Allen Hobbs of Players Group Management, released the following statement Wednesday morning.

“Last night in Pacific Palisades, California, Bill Haas was involved in a serious car accident in which the driver—a member of the family with whom Haas and his family were staying for the Genesis Open—was killed. While Bill escaped serious injuries and has been released from the hospital, he is understandably shaken up and—more importantly—his deepest condolences go out to the host family during this tragic and difficult time.“

“Bill will withdraw from the Genesis Open and plans to head home to Greenville to recover. He appreciates the support of friends, family and the golf world as a whole, and he has asked for privacy as he processes what has happened.“

Geoff Shackelford tweeted this video of the KTLA coverage of the crash.

Bill Haas’ father, Jay, spoke with Todd Lewis on Golf Channel’s morning drive earlier in the day, saying his son was “very fortunate.” Beyond swelling in one of his legs and pain, Haas sustained no serious injuries, according to his father.

See the discussion in the forums here

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