Justin Thomas grew up in Kentucky, went to college in Alabama and now lives in Florida, but Malaysia is where it all began for the reigning FedExCup champion.
The CIMB Classic is where Thomas picked up his first PGA TOUR win.
And his second.
Now he’s trying to accomplish the rare three-peat on the PGA TOUR.
“It would be an unbelievable achievement,” said Thomas, who chose a comfortable setting for the first start of his FedExCup defense.
Thomas is 49-under par in eight rounds at TPC Kuala Lumpur, an average of 6.1-under par per round. His scoring average here is 65.9 and he set the course record with a second-round 61 in his 2015 victory. He’s under par in all eight rounds at the CIMB, including seven rounds of 68 or lower. The exception is a third-round 71 last year that taught him a valuable lesson.
Thomas had cruised to a two-shot lead after the first two rounds of his title defense but struggled Saturday, playing the first 13 holes in 4 over par. He made birdie on the final five holes, though, to remain in contention. A final-round 64 gave him a three-shot win over Hideki Matsuyama.
“The only reason that I won this golf tournament last year was because of my finish on Saturday,” Thomas said earlier this week. “If I birdie one of those last five, I’m eight back going into Sunday and I have no chance to win that tournament. … I was just patient and just kind of stayed in the moment and just tried to keep playing and pressing on. Those birdies were the reason I won.”
Last year’s CIMB Classic was the first of his five wins last season. He preached patience after several of those victories, including the PGA Championship, where he also fought his swing during the third round but managed to keep himself in contention.
Thomas admits that he’s tired as he tries to tear up TPC Kuala Lumpur for a third consecutive year. He clinched the FedExCup with a runner-up finish at the TOUR Championship, then went 3-0-1 in his Presidents Cup debut. Last week, he accepted the Jack Nicklaus Award (PGA TOUR Player of the Year) before flying to Asia.
“I had all of four days to reflect on (the season),” Thomas said.
In 2015, he set the tournament scoring record with a 26-under 262, rebounding from a double-bogey at the par-4 14th, where he chunked his approach shot into the water, with birdies on the next three holes. He finished one shot ahead of Adam Scott.
Now Thomas will try to become the first player to three-peat since Steve Stricker at the John Deere Classic (2009-2011). Stricker was Thomas’ captain at this year’s Presidents Cup. Thomas’ caddie, Jimmy Johnson, was Stricker’s longtime.
“I’m hoping that he is the reason for the three-peat and we can get some good vibes through him,” Thomas said.