When is a defending champion not really defending? Just ask Justin Thomas at this week’s stop on the PGA Tour, the CJ Cup.
Justin Thomas finds himself in a unique position this week at the CJ Cup. It’s one of those rare occurrences on the PGA Tour.
Thomas comes into the CJ Cup as a two-time winner of the event. However, that advantage was recently nullified when the event was moved from its previous home at Nine Bridges in South Korea to Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.
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JT has won the event twice in its three-year existence, taking the title in the 2018 season and again last season. In his most recent win at Nine Bridges, Thomas topped Danny Lee by two shots. His 63 in round two was the low round of the week, as Thomas finished 20-under par for the event.
Now, Thomas faces a new challenge, defending his title but at an entirely new venue.
It’s not unlike defending a title at a major championship, one that is played at a different venue each season. Of course, this event is not a major, and that’s not what we’re saying, it’s just an example.
Thomas has made just one start on the PGA Tour this season so far. At the U.S. Open, he came out on fire, shooting a 65 at Winged Foot on the first day to take the lead. However, it was all downhill from there for the Louisville, Kentucky, native. He shot 73 on Friday, 76 on Saturday and 72 on Sunday. Ultimately, he finished in a tie for eighth place.
Last season on tour, Thomas started 18 events and made 15 cuts. He had 10 top 10 finishes overall. He won three times, adding the Sentry Tournament of Champions and the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational titles to his win at the CJ Cup. He was also runner-up twice, including at the Workday Charity Open, where he saw a three-shot lead with three holes to play evaporate. He would eventually lose to Collin Morikawa in a playoff.
Thomas remains one of the best players in the world and, no matter the venue, he will be expected to be in the hunt in every event he enters. That’s no different this week in Las Vegas. Expect to see JT contending, while defending, at the CJ Cup, even though he will be defending not only on a different course, but on a different continent.