Welcome to Inside The Tour. Australian Golf Digest’s man on the ground, Evin Priest, brings you the best stories from the US PGA Tour.
A week after Justin Thomas claimed the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, he backed it up with an opening-round 59 at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Thomas went on to record a seven-shot victory over England’s Justin Thomas. Here’s what grabbed our attention at Waialae Country Club:
Justin Thomas knows he has to manage expectations
With great wins come great expectations. And after clean-sweeping the US PGA Tour’s Hawaii swing to win his first two starts for 2017, Justin Thomas is aware he’ll be chasing his own standards for the rest of the season.
The big-hitting Thomas clinched his fourth US PGA Tour title, his second in a row and third of this season, after firing a five-under-par 65 at Waialae Country Club for a 27-under total of 253 on Sunday (Monday AEDT). The 23-year-old won by seven shots from England’s Justin Rose while Jordan Spieth was outright third on 19 under.
Thomas says he’ll draw inspiration from Day and McIlroy in battling pressure the inevitable to perform:
“Just blocking out (expectations); a lot of the things I hear,” Thomas told a media conference after his Waialae win.
“I understand that, looking at guys like Rory or Jordan, Jason Day, they go out there and they finish 10th a couple of events in a row and then finish 20th, everyone is like, ‘What’s wrong with them?’ I don’t know if I’m to that point yet or when it will happen or whatever. That’s the kind of stuff you’ve just got to block that out.
“I’ve always expected this of myself. It just hasn’t happened yet. Now that it’s happening, I continue to have the same expectations. I just need to continue to put the work in and just be ready every time I tee it up.”
There’s pressure on Jason Day’s No.1 spot
Jason Day made it crystal clear during the Tournament of Champions that a huge goal for 2017 was to remain world No.1 all year. The Queenslander has held golf’s top spot since winning the WGC-Dell Matchplay last year.
But with world No.2 Rory McIlroy grabbing 15.6 points for a runner up finish – losing the South African Open on the third hole of a playoff to Graeme Storm – Day could lose his No.1 status if McIlroy wins the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, but only if the field is strong enough to award the necessary points to overtake.
And with McIlroy to undergo scans on a back complaint, the Northern Irishman isn’t a certain starter in the Middle East.
Already, Bubba Watson is the victim of the world’s top 10, predicted to drop out with Thomas climbing to world No.8, pushing Pat Reed and Sweden’s Alex Noren down a spot each.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) January 16, 2017
Justin Thomas now -48 during Hawaii swing. Best cumulative score to par in a year in Hawaii events is -47 by Ernie Els in 2003.
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGolf) January 16, 2017
Jordan Spieth is peaking marvellously for the majors
It seems Jordan Spieth really needed a long break to get back into winning form. After his collapse at the Masters last year, the 23-year-old American earned just one victory before the season’s end.
But after seven weeks off following Team USA’s Ryder Cup victory in October, Spieth headed Down Under for a shot of confidence he always seems to find in Australia.
Since that playoff victory at Royal Sydney for his second Aussie Open in November, the world No.5 finished T6 at Hero World Challenge, T3 at Kapalua and lone third place at the Sony Open behind good friend Thomas.
Spieth is building wonderfully towards the major championship season. Given he told media at last week’s Tournament of Champions that he has already exacted revenge on Augusta National’s 12th hole, the Texan is poised to win his second Masters title.
Marc Leishman enjoyed a successful first hit-out for 2017
Marc Leishman’s 2016/17 homecoming was highlighted by winning a ball in the comp at Port Fairy Golf Club – with 36 points playing off a +7 handicap.
Feeling refreshed from his Down Under holiday and buoyed by the news his wife Audrey is pregnant with the couple’s third child, the Warrnambool native bagged a credible share of 20th at the Sony Open this week. He finished as the leading Australian in the 144-player field.
Leishman continued his record of having never finished outside the top 40 in eight starts at Waialae, with his best finishes including lone fifth place in 2014 and a share of ninth in 2013.
“I’ve played pretty well here; I’ve had a few good finishes but I’d like to improve on that and hold the trophy up at the end of the week,” Leishman told AAP at Waialae Country Club.
“It’s a great spot to start the year off and the game’s feeling good.”
Currently ranked world No.56, Leishman is not exempt for Augusta but is determined to book a 2017 Masters berth with a string of strong finishes early in the US PGA Tour season.
“You want to be at Augusta in April, so you do think about it a little bit it,”
“It definitely motivates you to try and get back there, especially when you’ve played well before.”