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Justin Thomas is back - and with a bang

After a quiet start to the 2018 season, US young gun Justin Thomas, a five-time winner in 2017 and voted Player of the Year, is back on the winning track.
The 24-year-old American on Sunday captured his 8th PGA Tour victory and his 7th in his last 31 tournaments at the Honda Classic when he beat fellow American Luke List, the third round leader, at the first extra hole of a sudden-death playoff.

This, in a tournament that saw the favourite Rickie Fowler miss the cut after a second round 76, Masters champion Sergio Garcia finish tied for 33rd after never breaking par and Roy McIlroy in a tie for 59th with a 9-over total.

Thomas closed with a 2-under 68 and List with a 69 to post matching 8-under 272 totals that sent them into the playoff at the PGA National Resort's notoriously unforgiving par-70 Champions Course at Palm Beach. 

Once there Thomas promptly rolled home the winning birdie at the first extra hole for a victory that will see him leap-frog rival US young gun Jordan Spieth into third place on the World Rankings list behind Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm. 

"It was another level of difficulty, not only the number of people I was trying to beat but this golf course," Thomas told reporters after his victory.

"I am so proud of myself and how I played. When you get out of position you have to try to salvage par and that's what I did.

"I just stayed patient. I know what to expect, how tough it can be, and it feels really good to have come out on top."

Sweden's Alex Noren who had led for a time earlier in the tournament, shot a closing 3-under 67 to finish in solo third, just one stroke out of the playoff, and another offshore invader, England's Tommy Fleetwood, took solo 4th place after shooting a 69 for a six-under 274 total that left the reigning European Tour champion just two shots adrift of Thomas and List.

Tiger Woods, looking more competitive than he has for some time, shot a level-par 70 in the fourth round for a level-par 280 total that earned him 12th place, one shot behind PGA Tour first-timer Dylan Frittelli (69), a young South African who has been making waves on the European Tour and will be happy with his first US start.

Thomas, once more the man for the occasion, hit one of his finest shots of the tournament on the lone playoff hole, bravely sending his second shot over a bunker on this par five 18th where he hit the green and left himself a long downhill putt for eagle.

His first putt pulled up four feet short but he made no mistake with his second one for victory after List had got into trouble off the tee with a drive that went right and landed in the middle of a small bunch of trees. 
His next shot went way left into the grandstand fence and from there, he two-putted for a par.

"It is going to sting a little bit," said List. "In a playoff, you can't give Justin (Thomas ) a par because he is going to hit birdies."

Thomas' final round was not without its controversy, however.

First, he attempted to have a spectator thrown off the course on the 16th tee for heckling him and then had to make an apology after the tournament for using a four-letter word on the green in the playoff at 18 when he made the winning putt live on television.

"I feel pretty terrible and uncomfortable about that," He remarked. "Everybody heard it."

As for Tiger Woods, whose 69 on Saturday was his first score in the 60s in the nine rounds he has played this year since his return to competition at Torrey Pines in late January, he said: "I made a big leap this week. I really hit it well." 

Woods closed with four birdies, two bogeys and one double bogey and firmly believes his game and his troublesome back are "starting to feel good again" under a fitness routine that must be maintained.

"I played well this week," he said. "Overall I am very pleased with the progress I have made.

"My body feels good. I need to keep it feeling good. I need to get back in the gym and keep it strong."

(Par 70)

272 Justin Thomas (USA) 67 72 65 68, Luke List (USA) 71 66 66 69 - Thomas won the playoff at the 1st extra hole (18th)
273 Alexander Noren (SWE) 66 75 65 67
274 Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 70 68 67 69
276 Webb Simpson (USA) 66 72 66 72, An Byeong Hun (KOR) 70 72 69 65
277 Jamie Lovemark (USA) 68 69 68 72
278 Sam Burns (USA) 70 71 69 68, Kelly Kraft (USA) 72 69 66 71, Emiliano Grillo (ARG) 71 72 69 66
279 Dylan Frittelli (RSA) 71 72 67 69
280 Tiger Woods (USA) 70 71 69 70
281 Dominic Bozzelli (USA) 68 73 71 69, Derek Fathauer (USA) 73 72 71 65, Adam Scott (AUS) 73 72 67 69, Thomas Pieters (BEL) 69 70 71 71
282 Greg Chalmers (AUS) 74 71 70 67, Scott Piercy (USA) 70 70 71 71, Tom Lovelady (USA) 75 70 67 70, Lucas Glover (USA) 70 75 71 66, Jason Dufner (USA) 69 72 70 71, Rory Sabbatini (RSA) 69 69 71 73, Cheng Tsung Pan (TPE) 71 71 71 69. 

For betting odds visit BetWay

Neville Leck

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