Justin Thomas keeps improving at Masters, but green jacket remains elusive
Sunday didn’t turn out how Justin Thomas hoped, but he’s eager for April and the next Masters.
After a career-best fourth-place finish in a week where he never felt entirely in command, Thomas departed Augusta National Golf Club optimistic about his chances to wear a green jacket in the years to come.
“I’m very confident I’m going to win around this place at some point,” Thomas said after a final-round 70 for 12-under 276. “I just don’t know when or if it will happen, but I’m very comfortable and need to execute a little bit better.”
A dismal finish to the third round dropped Thomas six shots out of the lead entering the final round. His opening approach shot Sunday indicated it might not be his day to make a charge. From 130 yards out, his wedge shot landed pin high, within six feet of the tucked left hole location, yet spun down the slope off the front of the green.
He saved par but any title hopes vanished on an ugly par-5 2nd. He hooked his drive into the trees, took an unplayable lie and walked off with a bogey on the easiest hole at Augusta National this week.
“I hit four great golf shots on 1 and made par,” Thomas said. “Didn’t hit the ball very well to start and anytime I had a birdie chance I didn’t hit a very good iron shot. Just one of those weeks, stuff just didn’t go my way.”
The highlight of the round was a gorgeous 226-yard second shot on the par-5 15th, landing inches away from the cup and leaving a four-footer he made for eagle. The final hole summed up Thomas’ week. His ball landed in the fairway, picked up mud and rolled into the bunker.
“It’s the first time I’ve had mud on my ball in a fairway bunker,” he said minutes after he scrambled for par.
Thomas can draw plenty of positives from his finish, his best in five Masters starts. He tied for sixth in greens in regulation (75 percent) and was fourth in proximity to the hole (33 feet, 2 inches). He also tied for 10th in average putts per hole (1.6), easily the best performance of his career on Augusta National’s greens, and averaged 299.6 yards off the tee.
“I did a little bit of everything,” Thomas said. “I didn’t hole (any putts) the last three days but I hit the ball beautifully Saturday. Today I had so many bowl pins and pins that I needed to get close to and hit it to 30 feet.”
This was Thomas’ fourth consecutive top-25 finish in the Masters, and he’s improved his spot on the leaderboard each year. He’s also broken par in seven of the last eight rounds. Playing regular annual practice rounds with former champions Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Fred Couples has given him a precocious understanding of the course’s nuance and strategic demands.
Excellent iron players are often identified at the Masters and Thomas, the No. 3 player in the world, is considered one of the top approach artists on the PGA Tour. The soft conditions this week diminished the value of his course knowledge and precise irons but Thomas expects -- and hopes -- to see a firmer, faster Augusta National in the spring.
“I wish the tournament in April started tomorrow,” he said.