It was only a matter of time, and that time is now.
22 year old Justin Thomas, two events into his Sophomore season on the PGA Tour, fired a final round 66 to win the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Thomas rocketed into the lead on Friday when he shot a 61. Playing on a birdie golf course in easy condition, Thomas' 67 on Saturday brought him back to a tie for the lead. By the time Thomas tee'd off on Sunday, he saw his lead vanish.
Thomas played decently well on the front nine, but was unable to really put his foot down on the tournament. He carded two birdies and no bogeys for a front nine 34. Once Thomas made the turn, though, he knew he needed to start making scores. He eagled the par 5 10th and birdied the 13th to take control, but things started to look shaky on the 14th, when he chunked his approach shot into the water which lead to double bogey.
“The thing I told myself is I really didn't do it because I was nervous,” Thomas said after his round. “I felt like I've been struggling off those downhill lies and that's what I've been doing, I have been chunking. Unfortunately, I had a big body of water in front of the green.
“But I just kept telling myself I controlled the tournament before that shot, so I just need to get back in it. I had four more holes to try to make some more birdies and was fortunate enough to do it."
Thomas quickly made up for his mistake as he birdied the next three holes. He entered the final hole with a one shot lead, but he put more pressure on himself than he needed to by driving the ball into the rough and hitting his approach into a greenside bunker. Thomas made a tough six footer for par to finally secure the victory.
"I still can't believe what happened," Thomas said. "I made that par to clinch the title. "I don't care how I got it done, it just feels awesome."
As a rookie last season, Thomas played incredibly well, notching seven top 10 finishes compared to only five missed cuts. He finished T18 at the PGA Championship, the only major he competed in last season, and began his season this year at the Frys.com Open, where he finished tied for third.
The victory gets Thomas into The Masters next year as well as every other prestigious tournament on the schedule, but the event Thomas seemed most excited about is the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Maui.
“Obviously the Masters is a great goal that I've had my whole career, too,” he said. “But the thing is (that) I could play my way into the Masters with good play before April, and I only had three more tries to make it to Hawaii."
Finishing alone in second place and one shot back of Thomas was Adam Scott, who is beginning his season without the anchored putter that he has been using several seasons. He tested a conventional putter early last season, but he was not producing results, and that caused him to ditch it for the long putter until the anchoring ban forced him to switch back. He has now competed in the Presidents Cup and the CIMB Classic with a conventional putter, he seems to have found the results he was looking for.
“These are important events to start the next year's PGA TOUR season,” Scott said after his final round at the CIMB Classic. “Next week is the World Golf Championship (HSBC Champions). I would love to get into contention there and try and win. I would like to have a win before the end of the season. So this is a step in the right direction.”
Finishing tied for third was a player who is becoming used to close calls - Kevin Na. After losing in a playoff the first week of the season and finishing one shot back the second week, Na again looked poised to win when he eagled the par 5 fifth to take a two shot lead. Unfortunately for Na, he was playing ahead of Justin Thomas, who still had his back nine charge ahead of him. Still, Na has now finished inside the top 5 every week of the season, and he seems to take a ton of positives out of it.
“You've got to take the positive,” Na said. “I’m playing the best golf of my life. I've got another shot at the World Golf Championship (HSBC Champions) next week.”
The other player tied at T3 was Brendan Steele. Steele, who has one victory on the PGA Tour, plays consistently, but does not find himself in contention all the time. Last season, he had five top 10s to go with six missed cuts, but he only had one top five, which was at the Humana Challenge early in the season. Still, Steele plays well enough to cash decent checks every week, and he can find himself crashing leaderboards, so expect him to be more of a factor in the early part of 2016.
Hideki Matsuyama rounded out the top five. The 23 year old from Japan is still looking for his second PGA Tour victory. Matsuyama had eight top 10s last season, but his putting seemed to let him down at certain parts in the season. His putting stroke looked a lot better this week, and his next win has to be coming sooner rather than later.