Justin Thomas facing FedEx Cup playoffs, U.S. Open gauntlet
The finish line is not where it normally is on the PGA Tour as the FedEx Cup playoffs begin Thursday at TPC-Boston, site of the Northern Trust.
The three-tournament playoff run continues next week at the BMW Championship and then the following week at the Tour Championship, where the top 30 in FedEx points will vie for a $15 million payout at the season-ending PGA Tour event.
Usually, that brings a sigh of relief and a bit of rest for the game’s top players. Instead, the U.S. Open looms two weeks later as part of the revamped schedule put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The biggest difference is that usually right after the Tour Championship, at least for me, I’m looking for a release, whether it’s a vacation or just put the clubs in my garage for whatever,” said Justin Thomas, who leads the FedEx Cup playoffs heading into the first event. “I need to have some fun. I need to just relax. That’s not the case this year. That release will come Monday after the U.S. Open this year.”
With the U.S. Open looming, Thomas got in a practice round at Winged Foot, site of the tournament, Sept. 17-20. He played alongside Tiger Woods at the venue that last hosted the tournament in 2006, when Geoff Ogilvy was the winner.
It has been home to five previous U.S. Opens and a PGA Championship.
“It was really hard,” Thomas said of the 7,477-yard, par-70 course. “I absolutely loved it. It’s one of my favorite, if not my favorite courses I’ve ever played. It’s just right in front of you. Not tricked up. Nothing’s hidden. You stand on the tee and you’re about 490 yards away and you have a really narrow fairway and a pretty severe green. There’s a lot of holes like that.
“So it is probably the most U.S. Open venue that I’ve seen. It checks all the boxes. It’s long. Narrow fairways. Going to be long rough and severe greens.”
It makes for a busy stretch for Thomas and many of the top players. The winner of the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational three weeks ago, Thomas is in the midst of a stretch of six tournaments in eight weeks that includes the U.S. Open.
Thomas said he would not visit Winged Foot again before the U.S. Open. He feels he overdid it preparing for the PGA Championship at Harding Park the week after winning the WGC event.
“To be perfectly honest, I was tired on Wednesday and Thursday, because I had never seen the course,” he said. “I usually would never play on a Monday, especially after playing a tournament, let alone winning it. I had to go out Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to play a practice round just because I need to learn the course and get to know it.
“I was not going to make that mistake again for the U.S. Open and I was very fortunate with us playing up here in the north to just go check it out for two rounds. That way when I go there whenever I decide to, I’m not completely starting from scratch.”
Thomas, 27, is ranked second in the world after tying for 37th at the PGA. He leads the FedEx Cup playoffs by 556 points over PGA winner Collin Morikawa, although the points in the first two playoff events are tripled, with the winner receiving 1,500.
The top 70 players in points following the Northern Trust advance to the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields (Ill.) next week, with the top 30 from there heading to Atlanta for the Tour Championship.
Thomas also said Tuesday that Jim “Bones” Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s longtime caddie who now works for NBC Sports, would caddie for him through the playoffs.
Mackay is replacing Jimmie Johnson, who became ill during the third round of the Memorial Tournament last month. Mackay caddied for Thomas at both the WGC and PGA.