Justin Thomas has spent the last several months trying everything and anything he could to make the FedExCup Playoffs. He added events to his schedule that he had never played before. He switched putters. He reconsidered his mental approach. He spent months of thinking, tinkering and convincing himself he was close, not only to the Playoffs but to the player he once was.
Standing just off the 18th green on Sunday at the Wyndham Championship with a chip for birdie, that reality was within reach. No more wishful thinking needed if he could get it to drop.
Then his ball ricocheted off the flagstick.
Sitting right on the top-70 bubble, Thomas didn’t know exactly what he needed to make on 18 to get in the Playoffs, but he knew a birdie would go a long way. As the ball bounded towards the hole, it seemed he had done it. It looked destined to drop into the cup and be the iconic shot played countless times to illustrate Thomas’ miraculous route to the Playoffs.
That’s not the type of season Thomas has had. Instead, the ball hit the flagstick dead on. The only thing to drop was Thomas, who fell to his back in disbelief as the ball nestled a foot from the hole. He settled for par, a T12 finish at 11-under and 71st in the FedExCup, one stroke out of the Playoffs.
“I know this game doesn’t owe you anything, but I feel like I fought hard enough to deserve it,” said Thomas, who still had a chance to make the top 70 as he spoke to the media after his round.
His fate was sealed later that evening as Lucas Glover won to vault from 112th to 49th and others around Thomas picked up enough birdies to whittle down his valuable FedExCup points. He finished nine points behind No. 70 Ben Griffin, who narrowly made the Playoffs after missing the cut earlier this week.
It was a margin Thomas hoped to have widened by this point in the season. He added the Rocket Mortgage Classic, 3M Open and this week’s Wyndham Championship to his schedule in pursuit of a top-70 spot. His motivation was two-pronged: He has never missed the FedExCup Playoffs in his career, a streak of eight years that he would rather not snap. And he finds himself outside the automatic qualifiers for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Thomas saw the Playoffs as the perfect conduit to show Captain Zach Johnson that his game was rounding into form and worthy of a captain’s pick.
Yet it wasn’t until this week at Sedgefield Country Club that he made any progress. He missed the cut in Detroit and Minnesota after he failed to do much of anything in the major championships. His T65 at the PGA Championship was his only made cut in the majors, as rounds of 81 at the U.S. Open and 82 at The Open Championship derailed any hopes of playing the weekend.
That left him 79th in the standings and vulnerable to many spoilers at Wyndham – be it an unexpected blow of the wind, a poor tee shot or an unlikely bounce off the flagstick. All happened as Thomas came down the back nine on Sunday.
Stuck in neutral for much of the afternoon, Thomas charged up the leaderboard and FedExCup standings with a pivotal eagle on the par-5 15th, roping a long iron to 15 feet and slipping the putt in to jump to 12 under on the day and 70th in the projected standings.
It lasted only moments as Thomas’ tee shot on the par-3 16th was met with a brutal gust of wind that held his ball up in the air and left him powerless as he watched it roll off the severe front slope of the green. With the green significantly elevated and his ball lying into the grain, Thomas could not get his chip shot close and settled for a two-putt bogey to drop to 11 under.
“I got screwed on 16, I mean the wind completely switched,” said Thomas. “I hit a 155-yard 9-iron that went 142 yards. … Obviously (if) that happens on my third hole on Thursday it’s not the last thing I’m thinking about, but when it happened an hour ago it’s all I’m thinking about.”
He failed to make birdie on the 17th after he pulled his tee shot into the rough. He did the same off the tee on 18, too, though it trickled into the pine straw. That allowed him to put the necessary hook on the ball to evade the overhanging tree limbs and get it near the green. Then came the chip shot. He opted for a “trap draw” with his 60-degree wedge, hoping to carry a large portion of the green and get it to check right in front of the hole. It just had too much speed.
“Obviously it was going past the hole, but I really wish it had gone in,” said Thomas.
The result is a season undoubtedly full of “what if” shots for Thomas, who misses his first FedExCup Playoffs since he debuted in 2014. What Thomas no longer questions is the quality of his game. He spent the last several weeks proclaiming really good golf was on the horizon. It came in Greensboro.
“I feel like I’m back to me again,” he said. “Personally, I think this is harder today than winning a golf tournament. I mean if you don’t win a golf tournament, you go finish wherever you finish, you learn from it, you go to the next week. Whereas if I fail here, my season is done. So I definitely felt more nerves the last two days than I have trying to win other golf tournaments, but I felt like I handled it extremely well. I hit some really really good shots when I needed to, hit some great chips when I needed to, hit an unbelievable putt for eagle on 15 and obviously the up-and-down on 17 and 18. I did the best I could.”
Source : PGA Tour