Justin Thomas was the big winner Sunday at the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, becoming the third-youngest to 13 PGA Tour victories, behind only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Oh, and Thomas is golf’s new No. 1 player.
But beware: Mr. Major, Brooks Koepka, appears healthy and to have found his mojo.
Koepka has a certain strut when he’s in contention, and he had it Sunday, a four-way tie for second his best finish of the season.
Sure, Koepka gave away one Sunday. Trailing by a stroke on 18, he dunked his tee shot and effectively ended his chance at forcing a playoff.
A bogey on the par-5 16th — the easiest hole on the course — should have been his undoing, but he bounced back to make an improbable birdie from the trees on 17, holing a 39-foot putt without a blink.
That Koepka failed to come through on 18 might not matter as much given his history and the calendar: a four-time major winner finding his game with the season’s first major, the PGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco, coming up this week.
Koepka is the two-time defending PGA champion. Since the 20th century, only one player — Peter Thomson of Australia — has won the same major three years in succession. Thomson won the British Open in 1954, 1955, and 1956.
Some takeaways from the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational:
▪ Jon Rahm lasted two weeks as the world’s No. 1 player. Only Tom Lehman had a shorter stay on top, lasting one week at No. 1 in 1997. Thomas is the fourth player in 2020 to hold the top spot, after Koepka, Rory McIlroy, and Rahm.
▪ Phil Mickelson did not lay up on any par 3s, shot a bogey-free 67 Sunday, and finished in a four-way tie for second, his best finish this season.
▪ CBS commentator Nick Faldo did not mince words when he was asked about Bryson DeChambeau’s chances at the season’s first major. Faldo said DeChambeau’s style of play — powering the ball over trees and cutting corners few dare even try — will not play well in a major, with thick rough penalizing off-line shots.
▪ That was Jim “Bones” Mackay caddying for Thomas. Thomas’s regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, is undergoing tests for dizzy spells. Mackay, Mickelson’s longtime caddie, is a commentator on NBC, which picks up PGA Tour coverage for the playoffs. Thomas and Mickelson were paired in the final round. The last time Mackay caddied for Mickelson also was at Memphis, in 2017.
▪ Thomas caught the break of the day, at the par-4 15th, a dogleg left. He hit a wayward tee ball and asked it to get lucky, and the ball listened. It hit a cart path and bounced to the fairway, inside 50 yards for his approach. (CBS commentator Dottie Pepper said, “That was lottery-ticket lucky.”) He made birdie to tie for the lead at 12 under with Koepka.
▪ Louis Oosthuizen put together four rounds in the 60s and finished 9 under, in a tie for sixth. Baby Shrek’s golf swing, almost flawless in its simplicity and power, is one to emulate.
▪ Brendon Todd, a two-time winner this season, couldn’t finish off a 54-hole lead again. He struggled at the Travelers in Connecticut the last weekend in June, shooting a 75. On Sunday, Todd, a fairways machine, lost his swing and his putting stroke and tumbled to a birdie-less 75 and a T-15.
▪ Englishman Tom Lewis had a nice weekend, a 61-66 getting him into a T-2. As an amateur, Lewis shot 65 in the opening round of the 2011 British Open playing alongside the man he was named after, Tom Watson.
▪ The top two players in the world entering the tournament — McIlroy (1 under, T-47) and Rahm (1 over, T-52) — were no factors.
▪ At the driving range recently, I heard a father tell his young son to keep his head down while swinging at the ball. Golf instruction is almost as complex as the game itself. If you can stomach Faldo, he sprinkles in helpful tips for amateur players among his inane attempts at wordplay.
Jim Hoban can be reached at email@example.com