How Justin Thomas persevered to win the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational

Justin Thomas

Justin Thomas hits his tee shot on the 1st hole at TPC Southwind on Sunday.

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Justin Thomas hit his drive, held his follow-through for a few seconds, then lowered his right hand onto the head of the club. It didn’t look good. His pose. Or his drive.  

“Left,” he barked, his drive on Sunday on the par-4 15th hole at TPC Southwind darting that way.  

“Oh, get lucky.”

It got lucky. 

The ball flew through trees. It flew over a creek. It landed 51 yards from the hole, where he would pitch to about 6 feet, make a birdie 3 and tie for the lead during the fourth round of the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

On the next hole, the par-5 16th, Thomas hit his drive again, and it did not look good again. His playing partner, Phil Mickelson, pointed right. He pointed right. He yelled, “Right.” It got lucky again. His ball took a skip off a cart path and bounced into a clearing, where he was to able to punch out before pitching to about 3 feet for birdie. It gave him the lead for good. 

Better to be lucky than good? Thomas was lucky and good. He started the day in Memphis, Tenn., four shots out of the lead, shot a 5-under 65 and won by three shots over four golfers, giving him his 13th PGA Tour title and moving him to the top spot in the world rankings ahead of next week’s PGA Championship.

“It was a grind today,” Thomas said. “You know, it was a place where I was four back, but I didn’t have too many people in front of me. I just kind of kept my head down, I tried not to look at leaderboards and really just played my own game. I tried to make as many birdies as I can if I got the ball in play off the tee. And I drove the ball probably as good as I ever have the first 13 holes. Not so great the last four holes, and we got very, very lucky and fortunate on some of those breaks to capitalize. 

“You know, that’s the kind of stuff I guess that happens when you win and I was just glad to stay patient, stay in the moment and not get ahead of myself to make sure we got the W.”

Here are three things you should know after the final round of the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn.    

Justin Thomas wins 

Thomas was good for the first 11 holes. 

He birdied the 2nd after hitting his approach to about 6 feet. He birdied the 3rd after hitting his approach to about 3 feet. He rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the 8th. He rolled in a 20-footer for birdie on the 9th. He was now tied for the lead. 

A bogey on 12, after an awkward lie from the sand on his third shot, dropped him out. The birdies on 15 and 16 brought him back. 

The three on 15 moved him into a tie with Brooks Koepka. The four on 16 gave him a one-shot lead. Koepka’s six on 16 gave Thomas a two-shot lead, then Koepka went birdie-double bogey on 17 and 18 to give Thomas the three-shot win. 

“I know that if I keep putting myself there, I felt like I’m going to get it done eventually and hopefully more often than not,” Thomas said. “This is the time of year where it’s obviously nice to get on a little bit of a run.”

Everyone contends

At one point, five players – Thomas, Koepka, Daniel Berger, Tom Lewis and Brendon Todd, who held the lead entering the day – were tied for the lead, and another three were a stroke back. 

Berger, Lewis, Koepka and Phil Mickelson ended up tied for second. Berger shot a 5-under 65 and Lewis a 66 after a third-round 61.    

Six players – Xander Schauffele, Jason Day, Shane Lowry, Chez Reavie, Louis Oosthuizen and Matthew Fitzpatrick – tied for sixth and were four shots back. 

Todd can’t hang on 

As well as Todd played the first three days, he played as bad on Sunday. 

No birdies. Five bogeys. A 5-over 75. 

It follows his play at the Travelers Championship a month ago, where he entered the final round with a two-shot lead, only to also shoot 75.

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Nick Piastowski

Golf.com Editor