American Justin Thomas underlined his status as a rising star when he claimed an impressive one-stroke win at the US$7 million CIMB Classic with a tournament record of 26-under-par 262 on Sunday.
The 22-year-old Thomas, the joint third round leader, closed with a six-under-par 66 which included a double bogey on the 14th hole to edge out Major champion Adam Scott of Australia, who signed off with a sparkling 63, for his first PGA TOUR title.
Co-overnight leader Brendan Steele of the United States shot a 68 to settle for tied third place alongside countryman Kevin Na who claimed his third straight top-three finish after posting a 67 in the CIMB Classic which is sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and Asian Tour.
Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama was the best placed Asian in fifth place after a 67 while Anirban Lahiri of India finished tied 21st at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West Course to put one hand on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit crown.
Thomas, a former All-American and a close friend of world number two Jordan Spieth, overcame a wobble on 14 with three successive birdies to take a one-shot lead into the par five 18th hole with Scott already in the clubhouse.
He ran his first putt five foot past the hole to give the Aussie a glimmer of hope of a play-off but then coolly converted his par putt to pocket a cool US$1.26 million champion’s cheque. Thomas is expected to break into the world’s top-30 with his career breakthrough victory.
“It was really nice to make those birdies after that double on 14. I’m probably more proud of that than winning the tournament. The only thing you could do is what I did, just laugh it off. It was that bad of a shot in the circumstance,” said Thomas of his mishit approach shot.
“I told myself I had four holes left, that I was leading at that point, fortunately, and if I was tied or one back when that happened it would have been a huge deal. I really felt very calm and great all day.
“The only time I really was nervous and jittery was on 18 probably hitting that bunker shot. And obviously the putt, if you couldn’t tell by how far past I hit it (first putt).”
Thomas, playing in his second season on the PGA TOUR, became the seventh consecutive golfer in their 20s to win on the PGA TOUR which underlined the youth movement in America.
“I expected to win a lot sooner than this, honestly. I always had high expectations
for myself and I definitely played well enough last year in some events to win. I understand that wining is difficult and it doesn’t happen that often,” he said.
Scott, who was four shots off the pace at the start of the day, charged into contention with a front nine 31 highlighted by an eagle on the third hole before returning with four birdies on the homeward stretch. He had a putt for eagle on 18 but made a poor attempt to settle for birdie.
“It was a great round of golf. I played great but they got off to a faster start and I chased hard but its’ probably not enough,” said Scott. “It was disappointing not to hit a better putt (on 18). It was a really big breaking putt and I completely didn’t trust it. It wasn’t even close. But I threw everything I could at it.”
He tipped his cap to Thomas, especially with the way the young American handled himself when the pressure was on at the back nine. At one stage during the early part of the final round, six golfers were tied for the lead.
“These kids playing out on TOUR now are so good, they keep learning from the guys before, and they’re like experienced at 22. It’s another indication of how good a shape and how strong a shape the game’s in with these young guys really taking it to everyone,” said Scott.
American Na, the Asian Tour’s Rookie of the Year in 2002 and now firmly established on the PGA TOUR, was disappointed not to cross the finishing line after coming close in the last three weeks. He was five under through 10 holes but parred his last eight holes.
“I gave it my best shot. It just keeps getting more and more disappointing, because three weeks in a row I’m right there. But you got to take the positive. I’m playing the best golf of my life,” said Na, who was seeking a second PGA TOUR win.
Matsuyama fired five birdies with no bogey to end four shots behind the new champion. “I’m disappointed I didn’t make a few more birdies, because I needed a couple more to win. I was trying my best but just came up short. The other guys, they just played better than I did. I did my best and really no regrets,” said the world number 15.
Scores after round 4 of the CIMB Classic being played at the par 72, 6,985 Yards Kuala Lumpur GCC course (am – denotes amateur):
262 – Justin Thomas (USA) 68-61-67-66.
263 – Adam Scott (AUS) 68-66-66-63.
264 – Brendan Steele (USA) 67-63-66-68, Kevin Na (USA) 67-66-64-67.
266 – Hideki Matsuyama (JPN) 65-66-68-67.
267 – James Hahn (USA) 70-65-64-68.
269 – Scott Piercy (USA) 62-69-69-69, Brian Harman (USA) 70-63-66-70.
270 – Tony Finau (USA) 71-67-66-66.
271 – Charles Howell III (USA) 66-72-67-66, Jim Herman (USA) 70-66-68-67, Patrick Reed (USA) 68-68-66-69, Ryan Moore (USA) 67-69-66-69.
272 – Daniel Summerhays (USA) 71-66-69-66, Cameron Tringale (USA) 70-68-65-69, David Lingmerth (SWE) 73-65-64-70.
273 – Branden Grace (RSA) 67-70-69-67, Stewart Cink (USA) 68-64-70-71, Alex Cejka (GER) 66-71-66-70, Spencer Levin (USA) 67-64-68-74.