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Justin Thomas remained patient and held his nerve to win the BMW Championship Sunday at saturated Medinah Country Club, his 10th PGA Tour title and first since last August.
And he has a jump on No. 11 as the victory affords him a two-shot lead at the start of next week’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, where a revamped scoring structure features a staggered leaderboard and the winner will bag $15 million.
Thomas, who started the final round with a six-shot lead but saw his advantage shrink to two, closed with a 4-under-par 68 to finish at 25 under and three shots clear of Patrick Cantlay.
Thomas tied the course record with a 65 in the first round and set the course record with a 61 in the third round. Birdies at 11, 13 and 15 were key to holding off his closest pursuers Sunday, and Thomas finished with a birdie on the 18th.
Cantlay closed with a 65, while Hideki Matsuyama finished five back at 20 under after his second 63 of the week.
“To shoot 4 under how I played I think is very impressive,” said Thomas, who began with a bogey and had to hit a shot left-handed from under a tree on the 10th that led to another bogey. “I played awful for 10 holes. I very rarely hit shots that were exactly what I wanted and so that’s tough when you’re trying to win a golf tournament.”
But he stayed patient – even when Cantlay pulled within two shots after three consecutive birdies starting on the seventh and Matsuyama pulled within two after six birdies in seven holes.
“I was really nervous going into today, had been awhile since I won,” said Thomas, who missed three tournaments this year because of a wrist injury. “I remember that it’s really hard to win a golf tournament and I’m glad that I was able to do so.”
And it was more rewarding to have done so the way he did, rather than if he had won by 10 shots.
“It’s always easy when things are going well. When your back is up against the wall or when you get pressured or put a little heat on you, I think how you respond is sometimes a little bit better or shows a little bit more,” Thomas said. “I just kept telling myself I was beating everybody by six through three rounds with a very mediocre Friday. I felt I was playing better than everybody else and I felt that I was good enough I was going to be just fine.”
And now, for the first time in his life, Thomas, the FedEx Cup winner in 2017, will start with a two-shot lead before a golf ball is hit in competition. In a first, the PGA Tour created this staggered scoring measure to simplify matters and do away with confusion at the season finale.
“I can certainly say 1,000 percent I never slept on a Wednesday lead, but I’m definitely excited for that and I’m just going to try to win the golf tournament as if everybody starts at zero,” Thomas said.
As the FedEx Cup points leader, Thomas will try to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win the FedEx Cup twice. He will start the Tour Championship at 10 under par. He’ll be two clear of Cantlay, who is second in the standings, and three clear of world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who’s ho-hum week dropped him to third in the standings.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be weird. It’s going to be different, I know that, but I don’t know what it will feel like,” Thomas said of having the lead. “I just know that I’m in a lot better position than I was at the start of the week. I just have to be grateful and thankful for that.”