Sobel: A Recent Trend Suggests Justin Thomas Could Stumble at the Tour Championship

Sobel: A Recent Trend Suggests Justin Thomas Could Stumble at the Tour Championship article feature image

Brian Spurlock, USA Today Sports. Pictured: Justin Thomas

  • Justin Thomas will start the 2019 Tour Championship with a two-stroke advantage.
  • Jason Sobel details a recent trend that suggests fading Thomas to win, despite his head start and great form, is the right play.

ATLANTA — Justin Thomas is fresh off a victory at the BMW Championship, already leads this week without hitting a single shot and is the obvious favorite to end the season with back-to-back titles.

There’s more to like about his Tour Championship chances, too: As I wrote in this piece, Thomas has been nearly unbeatable throughout his career when entering a round with a multi-stroke lead at any point in a tournament.

But let’s not hand him the 15 million bucks just yet.

If you’re looking to fade JT this week, there’s another trend which might supersede his success as a front-runner.

Of the last 10 winners of PGA Tour events, seven played the following week. In each instance, these players carried that momentum into their openings rounds four days later.

Here are the R1 scores for these players:

  • Chez Reavie: 65 (Rocket Mortgage)
  • Nate Lashley: 69 (3M)
  • Matthew Wolff: 67 (John Deere)
  • Dylan Frittelli: 68 (The Open)
  • Collin Morikawa: 66 (Wyndham)
  • J.T. Poston: 67 (Northern Trust)
  • Patrick Reed: 68 (BMW)

At this point, you’re probably thinking: Hell of a conclusion. Players who are playing well continue playing well after winning. NBD.

Not exactly…

Just as there’s a definitive trend for winners going low on the subsequent Thursday, there’s also a definitive trend for their overall results.

Here’s how each of these players finished in these tournaments directly after winning:

  • Reavie: MC
  • Lashley: MC
  • Wolff: T-37
  • Frittelli: T-32
  • Morikawa: T-31
  • Poston: T-59
  • Reed: T-19

Pretty different conclusion, huh?

Basically, what has happened — over and over and over again — is that the most recent winners stay hot in their next round, but every single one of them eventually hits the proverbial wall and runs out of the proverbial steam.

Like every player on this list did before him, Thomas is assuring us – if not himself – that he’s insistent on stepping on the gas pedal and plowing ahead this week, as opposed to coasting through the post-victory afterglow.

“I’m very excited that I won last week,” he said Wednesday, “but I couldn’t be any more over with. There’s no reason for me to enjoy that or celebrate it more. I need to figure out what I could have done better or should have done better and put it into place this week.”

He credits a certain Alabama football coach for that mentality.

“It really is kind of the Coach Saban method of the 24-hour rule. You enjoy it for 24 hours, and then it’s over with.”

There’s little doubt he’ll employ that strategy this week, just as there’s little doubt the recent list of winners did the same thing.

Saying it and accomplishing it, though, are obviously much different things.

Staked with a lead, just days removed from a win, it feels foolish to bet against Thomas when so many factors are biased in his favor.

If this latest trend holds true, the smart play might be to wait until he opens with a solid score on Thursday – something in the 60s, just like every other recent winner – then fade him overnight, when the lines move even more in his favor.

As we’ve already seen – over and over and over again – it’s easy to put one round together directly after winning, but four in a row has proved to be a much more monumental task.

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