Steve Keipert

Justin Thomas built a five-stroke lead, nearly spent it all on the closing nine then held on to claim the opening US PGA Tour event of 2017.

The 23-year-old repelled two body blows to defeat the white-hot Hideki Matsuyama and claim the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii for his third US PGA Tour victory and second in four starts. Thomas closed with a four-under 69 to finish 22-under and edge Matsuyama (70) by three across the Plantation course at Kapalua on the island of Maui. However, Thomas’s first US Tour win on American soil was not enough to see him swap spots with Matsuyama atop the moneylist and FedEx Cup points list.

In a tournament historically kind to leaders, 22nd-ranked Thomas began the final round with a two-stroke lead over world No.6 Matsuyama on the strength of three straight six-under 67s. Thomas, who won for the second time in Malaysia last October, has proven to be the Japanese star’s kryptonite during his recent hot streak. This week and that CIMB Classic runner-up finish to Thomas in Kuala Lumpur are the only times Matsuyama hasn’t won since capturing his national open on October 16.

At Kapalua, Thomas pushed as many as five strokes clear early on the inward nine before things became interesting. Matsuyama summoned all his short-game poise to hole a 17-metre pitch shot for eagle at the 14th hole – the driveable par-4 where Thomas had made eagle a day earlier – moments before Thomas speared his second to the par-5 15th deep into the Hawaiian jungle on his way to a double-bogey that slashed his lead to one.

Equilibrium was restored to Thomas’ universe when he rifled his approach shot to the 17th hole to tap-in distance as Matsuyama charged his long birdie putt and missed the comebacker for a two-stroke swing. Both players two-putted for birdies at the par-5 last.

After three rounds of frittered chances and sullied scorecards, defending champion Spieth carded Sunday’s best round – a bogey-free, eight-under 65 – to share third place at 16-under alongside Pat Perez (67) and Ryan Moore (71).

Best among the four Australians in the Tournament of Champions field was world No.1 Jason Day, who closed with a 70 to finish equal 12th at 13-under in his first tournament since September.

Seven Aussies, headed by Marc Leishman, are in the field for the Sony Open in Hawaii, which begins on the neighbouring island of Oahu on Friday morning, Australian time.



Hear Justin Thomas tell Joe Gomes, Titleist’s director of tour communications, why he felt Kapalua was a great fit for his game:

What’s in Justin Thomas’ bag: