KAPALUA, Hawaii – Justin Thomas started the new year slightly disappointed by not having won more than he already won on the PGA Tour.
That doesn't mean he once thought it was easy.
Sunday in Kapalua was proof of that.
Thomas won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in a three-man play-off against Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele for his third win in his last six starts on the PGA Tour and the 12th win of his career. Thomas, 26, now has more wins than all active players under 30.
That took time to digest, mainly because of how he got to number 12.
He birdied six of the eight holes to turn a two-shot deficit into a two-shot lead with three holes to play.
"Due to 15 holes, it was one of the best rounds I had played," he said.
He fell into a play-off by hitting a toe hook of the tee on the par-5 18, followed by a 3-wood that landed in knee-high vegetation so thick that a nine-man search did not hit the ball could find. He made a bogey.
"I made it pretty bad," he said.
Schauffele only became the fourth player in the final round to reach the 18th green, a 3-wood that left him a 35-foot eagle attempt. He triple for par, misses a putt of 7 feet for the win.
Thomas, who had stood on the green with a removed cap and had his head bowed, anticipating a defeat, suddenly got a new chance. It also gave life to Reed, who had made a 20-foot birdie putt for an 66 almost an hour earlier, corresponding to the best score of the tournament.
It was the first three-man play-off since the tournament moved to Kapalua in 1999.
"I was very lucky to have that chance," Thomas said.
Schauffele was eliminated with a par of three putts on the 18th in the play-off. Thomas had to see how Reed had two putts for the win, a 30-foot eagle pit on the first extra hole and a 12-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole. Reed missed both of them, and Thomas closed him in the last hole for darkness.
"That's what happens when you win," said Thomas. “Of course you have to play well and make a number of putts and make a number of shots. But at the end of the day you need things to make your way. And it certainly succeeded today. And it feels great. "
It was more crushing for Schauffele than for Reed, although Reed had the last chance to win.
Schauffele had a one-shot lead in the final round and was two shots ahead by seven holes when Thomas went on his big run with such pure golf that Schauffele said, "I'd like to see someone else try it."
The wind on the plantation lane is the most treacherous on the green, where players have to guess whether a gust of wind at 30 miles per hour will knock putts offline or give them too much speed. 18th in regulation, and it took Reed on the last two play-off holes.
"I should have won the tournament," Schauffele said, pausing to think how wild the last hour really was. "JT was there, but given the circumstances, I should have closed it did everything I had to do until the last moment.
Reed also spoke with the gusts of wind on his 12-foot birdie to win and 8-foot birdie to stay alive. What also bothered him – at least based on the look he shot at the gallery – was the fan who shouted: "Cheater!" After he hit his putt on the third play-off hole. Thomas said he didn't hear it, probably because he was locked up at his own moment.
The reference was to scoop Reed & # 39; s sand to improve his lie at the Hero World Challenge, which was captured on video and shown him after the round, resulting in a two-shot penalty. Reed had heard much more – and much worse – from the Australian audience during the Presidential Cup.
In this tournament, Reed had two rules-related decisions about the par-15 15th hole, including a decision to cancel, clean and place in the final round, giving him an easier lie from the pony gave. He birdied the hole. On Thursday, a volunteer made sure that his second shot hit the same hole.
Thomas was more exhausted than elated, mainly due to the sharp fluctuation in emotions at the end.
He carries speed to the Sony Open in Honolulu, and perhaps the rest of the year and beyond. Thomas remains number 4 in the world, but his record since June is remarkable. He finished no worse than a 17th place in his last 11 tournaments worldwide.
"It is no achievement to turn 12," Thomas said on Sunday. "It's an achievement that wins today. But I'll have fun with my family and celebrate tonight. And next week we'll try to get 13."