Justin Thomas defeated Marc Leishman on the second playoff hole, winning the first-ever CJ Cup, his sixth championship in the last year.
Justin Thomas didn’t make things easy on himself this week at the CJ Cup. After blasting out of the gates at Nine Bridges, he survived his share of stumbles. In the end, though, the story has been the same for almost a year: Justin Thomas comes out on top.
Entering Sunday’s final round, Thomas was tied for the lead with World No. 48 Scott Brown. Teeing off in a threesome with Anirban Lahiri, wind proved to be the group’s biggest challenge, and it showed on the scorecards.
Early on, Brown took himself out of contention with a pair of double bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5. Meanwhile, Lahiri battled stay on top, but he finished going four-over in his final five holes. Both tied for fifth place.
Thomas wasn’t immune to some squares on the card, either. For the second straight day, he posted a double on the front nine, a surprising 7 on the par-5 3rd. As he made the turn, though, the reigning FedEx Cup champion ran off three straight birdies, recapturing some much-needed momentum.
Marc Leishman, Cameron Smith led Aussie charge up the leaderboard
With Justin Thomas reaching 10-under just after the turn, paired with difficult conditions, it could have easily become a victory march. However, the Australian duo of Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith made their presence known.
Smith, who paired with Jonas Blixt to win the Zurich Classic of New Orleans in April, posted his second straight top-five finish of the new year. Dating back to the Open Championship, Smith continues to be an all-or-nothing prospect, with four top-15 finishes against five missed cuts. Perhaps this Asian swing is the confidence booster the 24-year-old will need.
The real story of the day, however, turned out to be the duel between Thomas and Marc Leishman down the stretch. The 33-year-old Leishman has been on an absolute tear since the beginning of summer, and it doesn’t show any signs of stopping soon.
Through 14 holes, Leishman and Thomas had separated themselves from the majority of the field, tied atop the leaderboard at -9. Both stumbled a bit on 17, making matching bogeys. What followed on the 72nd hole was pure magic.
So many times, a par-5 finish presents the ultimate risk-reward opportunity. Never has that been more obvious than it was at the very end of the CJ Cup. First through, Leishman took an aggressive line, drilling a fairway wood into the wind and over water to give himself an outstanding look at eagle. His two-putt birdie forced Thomas to make the same decision in the final grouping…and he did exactly the same thing.
The PGA TOUR’s old slogan is real – “these guys are good”.
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The ensuing playoff appeared to be ready for the same fireworks, and neither player would disappoint. Playing the 18th in sudden-death, both made par the first time through. On the second playoff hole, Leishman found the water hazard on 18, and Thomas’s birdie sealed the deal. His name now appears in gold on the CJ Cup trophy.
Justin Thomas moves to No. 3 in the world ranking with this latest victory, and how is he going to celebrate the whirlwind run?
“I’m so excited to not do anything,” Thomas said. “I officially have nothing left in the tank at this moment.”
Fair enough, Mr. Thomas. You’ve clearly earned the break.