MEDINAH, Ill. — Justin Thomas is as perplexed as anyone as to why he hasn’t won in more than a year.
Golf is a difficult game, with its share of peaks and valleys, and numerous other players are grabbing their share of victories. So nothing was ever guaranteed.
But Thomas had accumulated nine PGA Tour wins through last season, including a major championship. He reached No. 1 in the world as recently as two years ago. He played on Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup teams.
And yet, somehow, he has made it to the second-to-last event of the season without a win, and dropped to 10th in the world heading into the second FedEx Cup playoff event at the BMW Championship.
“It’s weird,” he said. “It’s been an odd season just because I’ve missed three tournaments (due to injury). But the difference with this season and any other season is I’d won. I’m playing just as good as any other year, for sure.”
Perhaps he saved his best for — almost — last.
Thomas began the third round of the BMW Championship on Saturday with five consecutive birdies at Medinah. He eagled the 10th and then holed out for another eagle at the 16th. He made just one bogey and shot a course-record 61 to lead by six over Tony Finau and Patrick Cantlay.
It put him firmly in position to win his 10th PGA Tour title and first since he captured the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in 2018. At that event, it had been several months since his previous win, which seemed long enough.
But this amount of time without a trophy has felt eternal. Three tournaments missed due to injury — including the PGA Championship in May — didn’t help.
“Man, that kind of sucked, [that] three-event stretch,” he said of a wrist injury that sidelined him starting with the Wells Fargo Championship and including the PGA and Memorial. “I was playing so good. I just drove the ball better than I’ve ever driven it at Augusta and I just was kind of like I am now. I have been trending and I feel way better with my putter than I did then.
“Everything is pretty similar, but just putting it better. The frustration was more so then. Now it’s just understanding that it’s golf and it’s going to happen. Might be tomorrow, might be in Asia (later this fall), might be in 2021. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. But I know I’ve put in — me and my team have put in– the proper work that we’re prepared when we are put in that situation and that situation is [Sunday].”
Thomas, 26, has gone low before, shooting 59 in Hawaii and matching the then-U.S. Open scoring record of 63.
But there was some good fortune along the way, too, on Saturday at Medinah. Thomas hit his ball in the water at the 15th, where he then wedged it close to save par. Holing out from 180 yards, as he did at the 16th, is not common. He also chipped in for a birdie at the 14th.
And if he needs any reminder of how fickle the game can be, Hideki Matsuyama — who shot 63 on Friday — was the 36-hole leader and now finds himself 10 shots back.
Justin Thomas broke the course record AND got in Brooks Koepka’s wallet?! Yep. I asked him about it all.
Perhaps the most tenuous moment for Thomas on Saturday was when he knocked a 5-wood shot at the par-5 10th from 260 yards to just 3-feet, setting up what appeared to be an easy eagle putt.
“Honestly, there was this guy, I put my ball down and when I put it down he yelled, “Noonan,” Thomas said, making a reference to a line from the movie Caddyshack that is meant to distract a player. “I was scared he was going to say something while I was putting, I’m like, ‘Man, does this guy hate me?’ I was just terrified he was going to do something.
“Luckily he didn’t and I made it. So I was obviously in a great state of mind with that putt.”
Thomas should be feeling pretty good about winning again, too. He has a comfortable lead and is set up to go into next week’s Tour Championship atop the standings and in position to win the FedEx Cup for the second time in three years.
“I couldn’t care less, to be honest,” he said. “I’m just worried about trying to win this tournament [on Sunday].”