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Thomas hopes to rekindle that winning feeling

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser — Paul Arnett The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Jan. 11--Justin Thomas wasn't quite feeling it last week on Maui, didn't have that defending champion thing down pat.

At age 24 you're still finding your way out here on the PGA Tour, still trying to deal with conflicting emotions when the golf ball is rolling your way and when it's not. Like a gambler on his own kind of roll, it's all about being in the zone, moving along from shot to shot, unaware of your surroundings, kind of in a daze.

It was like that for Thomas during last year's opening round of the Sony Open in Hawaii. Fresh off a three-shot win over Hideki Matsuyama at the expansive Plantation Course, Thomas brought his A-game to Oahu and shot a phenomenal 59 with close friends Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger bearing witness to the encounter.

When recalling that day, Thomas is a little fuzzy about it. He concedes Spieth showed more emotion than he did after rolling in that last putt for a 59. Spieth did a classic fist pump. Thomas? Not so much.

"I think he was kind of in the zone," Speith said Wednesday prior to today's opening round of the 20th Sony Open in Hawaii. "I don't think he knew where he was at the time."

Thomas said after Wednesday's pro-am, "I didn't really know what to do because I've never had a putt on Thursday mean that much. I didn't know how to react. I was more worried about trying to make the putt more than anything."

Now, ask a golfer about a bad tournament and like a gambler, he can remember every faulty notion that came his way. Last summer, Thomas missed a chance to win Jack Nicklaus' tournament at Memorial when he had his A game. And the 2017 PGA Tour player of the year remembers every wayward shot, putt, swing as if it happened during his Tuesday practice round.

"I had a great chance on Sunday on that back nine," Thomas said. He then rattled off each shot without hesitation.

"I think I was like two back coming off of the rain delay, and I had -- I was on the 12th green, had about a 12-foot par putt and I made that par putt. Hit a great drive on 13, hit a wedge to about 3 feet and missed it. Next hole, hit it to about 8, 10 feet and missed it. Next hole, had a 4 iron in my hands and shanked it out of bounds, made par. So, there's three holes where I should at least birdie two of the three and I didn't birdie any of them."

Part of the problem for Thomas today at 12:40 p.m. is to forget all about that 59. He knows he can shoot 69 today and still have a chance. But the difference between this year and last is even more than that. Last year, Thomas was full of confidence. He was riding higher than John John at the Eddie.

And if he was looking for a similar experience last week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, he was, well, out of luck. While world No. 1 Dustin Johnson was hitting it clean out of sight, Thomas had a first-hand view of how a little time off can lead to a lot of rust.

He opened with a 71 and was tied for 12th in the 34-man winners-only field. The next day, Thomas shot a 75 and dropped into a tie for 20th. The next day, Thomas managed another 75 to sit alone in 30th, 18 strokes off the pace of eventual winner Johnson. The final round was an eight-shot improvement to 67 to finish tied for 22nd.

His emotions last week were still fresh Wednesday.

"I'm not coming off the same momentum in Kapalua," Thomas said early in his interview. "I didn't play that poorly last week. It was just I felt a little rusty."

Nearly two dozen questions later, he revisited his Maui pain in greater detail.

"When I was in 30th place last week, I wasn't exactly feeling great," Thomas said. "I'm being perfectly honest. It's such a weird game. I was embarrassed. It's like was I not prepared enough?

"I was just in a very emotional state last week and there's weeks where I'm like that, and there's weeks that I'm not. Obviously, I want to get rid of it, but just every little thing really just pissed me off. And I'm trying to not have that happen, but last week was one of those weeks."

And again, Thomas started rattling off missed opportunities on Maui and the frustration that builds with it.

"And it was just like, man, like I'm so over par on this golf course," Thomas said. "Like this golf course is so easy and huge fairways. I mean, I missed No. 7 fairway three or four days. You can land a 757 down that thing, and I missed -- actually I missed it every day. One day I hit it through, so I'm counting that. Three or four days, I missed the fairway left."

Thomas is hopeful he not only shook off the rust but rung out the emotions as he prepares for his afternoon tee time. He'll be trying to bring back that 59 vibe. Just don't expect to shoot it.


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