AKRON – Justin Thomas didn’t have to do a lot in the final round to win the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, but he did enough in scraping together a 1-under-par 69 on Sunday to garner a four-stroke victory.
Thomas had a three-stroke lead over Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy and England’s Ian Poulter after 54 holes and basically bided his time, made plenty of safe — if sometimes spectacular — shots and made solid decisions while letting his pursuers fall away one by one. He finished with a score of 15-under 265 at venerable Firestone Country Club’s South Course.
“I’m in a great place mentally right now — I think I just made six bogeys all week, which is pretty good around this place,” Thomas told the media afterward. “Some weeks you wake up and you are happy and in good spirits, and some weeks you aren’t.”
Kyle Stanley, who began the day five strokes behind Thomas in a tie for fifth place, carded a 68 in the final round to jump into second alone at 11 under.
Thorbjorn Olesen of Denmark and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson both fashioned 64s on Sunday to finish tied for third at 10 under. Two-time defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka, who had a 67, wound up alone in fifth at 9 under.
Despite the easy win, Thomas got emotional on the final hole. His grandfather, Paul, played in the 1960 PGA Championship at Firestone Country Club, and both he and his grandmother were in the gallery behind the 18th green waiting to congratulate their grandson.
“I’m glad I finally played well around here, just in time for it to leave,” Thomas said in CBS Sports’ post-round interview. “I got a little choked up when I saw grandma and grandpa over there. It’s really cool. They don’t get to come out very often anymore. This is my first PGA Tour win with them here, so it’s pretty cool. It means a lot to win on a great golf course.”
Thomas, the defending PGA Championship winner, will head to that event next week in Bellerive, in the suburbs of St. Louis, as the favorite to repeat.
“I played well at this tournament last year but putted horrifically,” Thomas said. “I had just one really good putting day this week, and it really carried me. I feel great going into the PGA next week.”
McIlroy, who was paired with Thomas in the final group, carded four bogeys in a stretch of six holes around the turn and was never a threat. He shot 73 and finished in a tie for sixth with Aaron Wise (67), Patrick Cantlay (68) and India’s Anirban Lahiri (68) at 8 under.
Jason Day of Australia had Thomas’ lead down to two shots when he birdied the 12th hole, but then he came unwound, dropping four shots over his next four holes to fall far out of contention. Day ended up with a 73 and tied for 10th with Poulter (74), Tony Finau (68) and Si Woo Kim of South Korea (69) at 7 under.
Thomas had a birdie and a bogey on the front side and a lone back-9 birdie on 13 to go with 15 pars on the day. It was his third win of the PGA Tour season and the ninth of his PGA Tour career.
Thomas, ranked third in the world, had just one top-10 finish in his past eight tournaments and missed the cut at the Open Championship in his most recent event prior to this week.
Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner at Firestone, signed for a 3-over 73 on Sunday and finished tied for 31st at even par, 15 strokes off Thomas’s winning score.
“I was trying to be aggressive as possible and fire at everything,” Woods said after his round. “It was either going to be a 62 or a 72. Things could have certainly gone better. It is what it is. I hit a few pulls this week. Also hit a few blocks. I hit it both ways. Need to clean things up.”
The tournament, which was born in 1962 as the World Series of Golf, has been played at Firestone Country Club every year since except in 2002. It will be relocated to Memphis, Tenn., next year and called the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. It will be played July 22-28 at TPC Southwind.
–Field Level Media