NORTON — His swing as sweet, sharp, and deliciously consistent as a top-shelf Kentucky bourbon, the Louisville-born Justin Thomas on Monday separated from a three-man dogfight midway through the back nine and captured the Dell Technologies Championship with a final-round 66 across the sun-splashed TPC Boston course.
Thomas, 24, who won the PGA Championship for his first career major only last month, took the lead for good with a par on the 14th hole and held on for a three-stroke win over longtime pal Jordan Spieth and four over Australia’s Marc Leishman.
“A good day, a patient day,” said Thomas, the win bumping him into second place in the FedEx Cup playoff standings. “It was a great week. I didn’t feel I had my best stuff at the start of the week and that’s just something I’ve gotten so much better and I am proud of myself [for that] more than anything. So a great win, for sure.”
The victory, which paid $1.575 million, capped a near-flawless week for Thomas, who bogeyed his fourth hole in the opening round, then was error-free until he bogeyed for a second and final time on No. 11 on championship Monday. Only three holes later, with the potential for a playoff looming, he finally separated by a stroke over Spieth, his buddy since their early teen years, and the free-swinging Leishman.
“I really could have gone 72 holes without a bogey this week,” said Thomas. “I guess you could say that’s a testimony to where my game is and the control that I have. I just feel my short game is giving me the opportunity to do that when that probably wouldn’t have been the case two years ago.”
Thomas only turned pro during the 2015 season. Now with some $15.5 million in career earnings, he is just getting started.
Thomas increased his 2017 earnings to a whopping $8.95 million and further positioned himself among the favorites to capture the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus to be awarded Sept. 24 at East Lake in Atlanta.
Thomas, who trailed Leishman by two strokes after the front nine, took sole possession of first place on the 14th hole, when he drained a 4-foot putt for birdie. Spieth, who bogeyed the hole, dropped into a second-place tie with Leishman and the two could not close the gap over the final four holes.
“Obviously, a disappointing back nine for me,” said Leishman, who followed his dazzling front-nine of 30 with a ham ‘n’ egger 40 on the return nine. “There were some tough holes out there, but certainly not 10 shots tougher than the front nine.”
Jon Rahm, the Basque Basher who held the lead after Round 2, shot 3 under on the final day and finished 12 under, tied with Paul Casey for fourth. Casey last year finished second to Rory McIlroy, the talented Irishman who failed to make the cut here in the 15th TPC Boston championship event (previously the Deutsche Bank Championship).
Kevin Na and Patrick Reed each matched Thomas at 5 under for the day and finished tied for sixth with Phil Mickelson (still without a top-3 finish this year). Dustin Johnson, 2 over on Sunday, finished T-18 after rolling a 5 under to take the first-day lead.
Thomas and Leishman, steady hands through the first three rounds, began the day sharing the lead (minus-12) through 54 holes.But Spieth, two strokes back when night fell on Sunday, quickly made it a three-man race with a crackling start in which he went birdie, eagle, birdie, birdie.
“A dream start,” said Spieth. “You’re not going to keep that pace and shoot, you know, 54.”
It wasn’t even 2:30 p.m. and the story line was set — the three of them would go toe to toe for a good portion of the gorgeous fall afternoon on the 7,342-yard track. Ultimately, noted Spieth, his long irons failed him. Meanwhile, the stout Leishman made three straight bogeys at 10, 11, and 12, and the path was paved for Thomas to win for a fifth time this year.
When they made the turn, Leishman was alone with a two-stroke lead over Spieth and Thomas.
Following Sunday’s round, which gave him a share of the lead, Thomas was blunt in his assessment of the course. Holes Nos. 11 through 14 presented the greatest challenge, he said, leaving him plenty of acreage to challenge for birdies.
“You kind of have to play those hard holes well,” he added, “or just make pars. I’ve been able to do that. And then the rest of the holes, or most of the other holes, you can kind of feast on.”
Leishman quickly surrendered his two-stroke lead. With a half-dozen holes remaining, the three were knotted at 15 under, with Thomas carding a bogey on No. 11 and Spieth dinged on No. 12.
Thomas came out of the back nine “worry” holes dinged by only his bogey on No. 11, and finally gained separation for good only three holes later.
It’s now on to Lake Forest, Ill., for stage three of the FedEx Cup playoffs, Thomas among the best 70 in contention. In a very short time, he has put himself in the conversation as best golfer on the planet.
“I mean, my career stats,” said Thomas, uncomfortable with commenting on his world standing. “I’m not even remotely close to being the best.”
Yet on a picture-perfect days, with autumn’s hues beginning to splash across southern New England, he was the best in Boston.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.