Justin Thomas’ fragile Ryder Cup candidacy just took another blow
Justin Thomas arrived at the 3M Open with his future looking surprisingly murky.
The two-time major champ and former World No. 1 arrived at Minnesota’s national open in the midst of a very bad stretch. He was riding one of the worst playing streaks of his career, with four missed cuts in his last six starts, and now stood on the outside looking in on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. Worse yet, he was playing for his Ryder Cup life, his Thursday 83 at the Open Championship thrusting his sterling match play reputation into question next to a crowded American field. After his Open Championship struggle, Thomas had been forced to add the 3M — along with the Wyndham Championship — to his playing schedule in a last-ditch effort to secure his spot in both Cups.
Fortunately, there was no such uncertainty around his job for the week. Thomas needed only to play well. If he did that, he would both solidify his spot in the FedEx Cup Playoffs and his standing with U.S. Ryder Cup captain Zach Johnson, who would seem to favor a player of Thomas’ skill and experience on the American side. It helped too that the deck was stacked in his favor at the 3M. He was playing one of the most wide-open setups on the PGA Tour schedule, and against one of the Tour’s lightest fields. If Thomas played well, not even a bad-luck break like Saturday morning at the Masters could be enough to keep him out of the weekend.
But then came Friday afternoon.
It was necessarily that he’d played poorly — Thomas had shot a respectable two under through 36 holes, a fine score, particularly in Thursday afternoon’s conditions.
“I played really well. I think everybody that played this afternoon was pretty shocked with that wind,” he said after Thursday’s opening round.
It was just that he hadn’t played nearly well enough. When Thomas walked off the course at TPC Twin Cities after his second round on Friday afternoon, the good folks at Datagolf gave him a 2.4 percent chance of making it through the cutline. When play completed, the cutline had sunk all the way to four under; Thomas was once again on the outside looking in.
Thomas now heads to the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina riding a streak of five MCs in seven events, one of the worst such streaks of his entire career. He will have one more opportunity before the start of the FedEx Cup Playoffs to earn himself a spot inside the PGA Tour’s top-70, entrenching a spot in the postseason. He ranks 75th now, but a strong week at the Wyndham would likely be enough to push him into the field at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis.
A playoff slot would be important for confidence’s sake, but it would be equally important for Rome. Many of Thomas’ fringe team USA counterparts will find themselves in the field at TPC Southwind for the first playoff event. If Thomas can’t find a way into the field, he’ll leave open the possibility that a strong playoff performance from another fringe American player could bump him off the team.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that could already happen, given the way Thomas has played of late. But earning a slot in the playoffs would do a lot to quell any anxiety on the part of U.S. Ryder Cup leadership; a fact that certainly isn’t lost on JT.
“This is my third week of hopefully a lot in a row,” Thomas said after his round on Thursday.
He’s right, but after Friday, there’s a lot more emphasis on hopefully.