MAUI – (Staff and wire service report by Gracenote) – Justin Thomas birdied the third playoff hole to win the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the second time on Sunday. He now has 12 career PGA Tour victories, more than any other active player under the age of 30.
“It means a lot,” Thomas, who also won the event in 2017, told the Golf Channel, “It feels great, and I’m glad to be coming back here.”
His 12th PGA Tour win came only after a dramatic series of meltdowns from some of the world’s top-ranked players — beginning with himself.
Ninth-ranked Xander Schauffele was the defending champion and led the tournament entering the final round at the Plantation Course at Kapalua. Playing in the final group, he was caught by fourth-ranked Thomas, who grabbed the lead by going six-under through his first 15 holes on Sunday.
Lurking was No. 12 Patrick Reed, who polished off his second 7-under 66 — and only the third of the week — playing ahead of the final twosome. He birdied the 18th hole to get to 14-under-par, but appeared to be a longshot to reach a playoff with Thomas at 16 under and Schauffele on the course at 14 under.
But the final group proceeded to suffer through a series of gaffes over the closing stretch.
Thomas, who saw his birdie putt on No. 15 circle the hole before dropping, promptly bogeyed the 16th. He still led by one arriving at the 18th hole.
Thomas hooked his tee shot but stayed in bounds. Rather than playing it safe to the right on the iconic par-5, Thomas took on a more difficult angle and hooked his approach into a hazard.
Meanwhile, Schauffele reached the green from 305 yards, just the third player in the final round and the seventh all week to reach the 18th in two shots (he later hit the green in two again on the first playoff hole). Thomas chipped to within 10 feet to set up his par putt, with Schauffele facing an eagle putt for the victory.
Schauffele then badly missed his eagle attempt, the ball resting seven feet below the hole. Thomas had an opportunity to set up no worse than a two-way playoff, but left his par putt short and left.
Schauffele, with his second attempt to close out the tournament, pushed his birdie putt wide right.
“18 was just disaster,” Thomas said. “I didn’t hit very many good shots on the hole (all week).”
That brought Reed back into the tournament, with the three players heading back to the 18th tee to begin the sudden-death playoff.
Reed and Schauffele both reached the green with lengthy eagle putts on the first playoff hole, while Thomas had to execute an up-and-down from behind the green. Schauffele three-putted, eliminating him, while Thomas and Reed returned to the 18th hole.
On the second hole, Thomas hit his approach shot fat, barely clearing the hazard. That opened the door for Reed, who was unable to close out the win with a birdie attempt — despite leading the field with 45 one-putts for the week, 13 more than anyone else.
They returned to the 18th hole, knowing it would be the final one of the day with darkness descending. Thomas hit his third shot within feet, putting the pressure on Reed, who pushed his own birdie putt to the right to set Thomas up for the winning putt.
Thomas took over the lead in the FexEx Cup standings with the dramatic victory.
“For some reason, I was supposed to win this week,” he said. “I was very, very lucky. I got very fortunate, but I also stuck to my process and tried to stay positive. Because, I just tried to tell myself, ‘There’s a reason we’re still here, we’ve still got a chance to win, and we’re fortunate to do that.’ ”
It was a difficult ending for Reed, who created a firestorm of controversy for himself with a rules violation at the Hero World Challenge last month that followed him to the Presidents Cup and then popped up with a fan yelling out “Cheater!” on his birdie putt on the third playoff hole.
“It’s all about winning,” Reed said when asked if he was satisfied with his final-round 66 in extremely windy conditions. “At the end of the day, I did what I had to do today. Unfortunately, I had a putt — two putts, really — to close it, and one of them I got ‘gusted on,’ and then this last one — with the wind and the break — it got me again.”
Schauffele, the third-round leader, was attempting to become the first repeat champion of the event since Geoff Ogilvy (2009-10). He parred the 18th hole twice on Sunday after having eagle putts on the final hole of regulation and the first playoff hole.
“Very up-and-down,” Schauffele told the Golf Channel about his emotions on Sunday. “I should have won the tournament. I think I know it, everyone knows it.
“J.T. was right there. But with the circumstances given, I should have closed it up and I didn’t. I kind of did everything I was supposed to until the last moment, which sucks. It’s just another learning experience, and I guess I’ll have to work on some wind putting.”
NOTES: Thomas took over the top spot in the FedEx Cup standings with the victory. … Rickie Fowler and Chile’s Joaquin Niemann tied for fifth place at 10 under. It was the fourth top-six finish for Fowler in as many appearances in the event, while Niemann — the first-round leader — was the highest finisher among the 15 first-time winners in the 34-player field. … Dustin Johnson, making his first start of the 2019-20 season, shot a 4-under 69 on Sunday to finish in a tie for seventh place. It was his eighth consecutive top-10 finish in the event. … Spain’s Jon Rahm, the top-ranked player in the field at No. 3, finished in solo 10th place at 8 under after parring his final 13 holes Sunday. … The tour moves over to Honolulu this week for the annual SONY Open, the first full field event of 2020.