AKRON, Ohio – One year ago, Justin Thomas left the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational frustrated with his 28th-place result, but confident that his game was trending in the right direction.
He was right, of course, proving it with his first major victory at the PGA Championship the very next week.
>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest conversation delivered into your inbox each morning.
Well, if Thomas was oozing confidence after that middling result, we should be asking this question now: Just how much confidence does he feel entering the year’s final major after winning at Firestone?
In fact, I posed that query to him after his untroubled four-stroke triumph on Sunday, the type of performance that sucked the anxiety out of the afternoon.
“There were some people out there making putts [last year], I just wasn’t one of them,” he said. “I just had one really hot putting day this week, so I think that was really just the biggest difference.”
Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Justin Thomas.
Since the WGC-Bridgestone moved to the week preceding the PGA Championship, only two players — Tiger Woods in 2007 and Rory McIlroy in 2014 — have swept this late-summer swing.
Oddsmakers obviously believe Thomas is capable of replicating this feat. After opening at +3000 on Sportsbook.ag prior to arriving at Firestone, he’s already moved to +1200 going into Bellerive, behind only Dustin Johnson (+900) and tied with McIlroy.
Perhaps oddsmakers are just now catching on that JT is one of the world’s best players and keeps improving.
His win Sunday was his ninth in 112 career PGA Tour starts — a winning percentage of 8.0%. Since the beginning of last year, though, he has seven wins in 40 starts for a winning percentage of 17.5%.
Even Thomas on a heater doesn’t touch Tiger Woods’ career rate of 23.4%, but he’s now surpassed “good friend” Jordan Spieth, who’s won exactly 7.5% of his starts.
As such, he’s probably slotted more correctly in the markets for the upcoming tournament than he was this past week.
And here’s another good statistic to keep in mind in case Thomas continues his stellar play at Bellerive: Of the eight times he’s held a 54-hole lead, he has converted six of those for a victory including this weekend.
I’ve mentioned this quote from McIlroy a few times already this week, but it’s worth posting again.
“I like JT’s attitude over everything else. He’s got a nasty streak in him, which I think you need out here. When he gets himself in the hunt, you can see like a little twinkle in his eye and he really enjoys it.”
As Thomas’ final-round playing partner, Rory got a good glimpse of that twinkle on Sunday.
If Thomas rekindles that feeling this week, he could join McIlroy and Woods – his two Thursday/Friday playing partners — as back-to-back winners of these events.