Golf

Justin Thomas to tee it up at Honda Classic, determined to be No. 1 in world

Justin Thomas smiles as he talks to reporters at the Honda Classic golf tournament practice, Wed., Feb. 22, 2017, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Justin Thomas smiles as he talks to reporters at the Honda Classic golf tournament practice, Wed., Feb. 22, 2017, in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. AP

For Justin Thomas, it’s a perception thing. He admires — probably even envies — fellow PGA Tour rivals who play with an abundance of confidence.

“You look at people like Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, I think it’s so cool watching them go walk around the golf course because they just look so unbeatable and they have such great strides and such confidence, even when they walk,” Thomas said.

“You know, that’s something that sounds so dumb when you say it, but when you’re playing against somebody and they’re slumping their shoulders and they look exhausted, you’re like, ‘Hey, I can beat this guy.’ 

Thomas isn’t intimidated by his fellow golfers, just impressed by the way they handle themselves.

At age 23, Thomas has been beating most guys lately, and he will try to continue that trend when he tees it up Thursday in the Honda Classic, being played on the Champion Course at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens.

The tournament provides Thomas with a home-field advantage since he lives just 20 minutes up the road in Jupiter.

“It’s nice to be home for a week, and I’d like to get a win on the homeland,” Thomas said. “Not only for me, but so everyone can stop making fun of me that I can’t win on the homeland.”

In January, Thomas became the hottest player on tour by winning the SBS Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in back-to-back weeks, helping him climb to No. 8 in the World Golf Rankings. In addition, at the Sony, Thomas became the youngest PGA Tour player to shoot a 59, including a 29 on the front as he eagled the first and ninth holes.

Since turning professional in 2013, Thomas has won four PGA Tour events and one Web.com tournament, giving him total winnings as a PGA player of $10,679,199.

However, lacking on his résumé is success in the majors, as he has never cracked the top 15 in golf’s four biggest events.

The possibility of eventually gaining the No. 1 ranking, which Johnson currently holds, obviously means a lot to Thomas internally. It would be validation of the highest kind.

“I don’t know how many guys have done it,” he said, “but it’s a list you can never be taken off of. You’re the best in the world, and if you’re the best in the world … it doesn’t matter what profession or what your job is.

“Whatever sport I ended up playing, I did it to be the best in the world. I hope to get there at some point in my career and hopefully stay there for a while. It would be so cool to me to just be able to pull up those World Golf Rankings and you’ve got a 1 next to your name.

“There’s nobody in the planet that’s ahead of you. At that point, you’re the best in the world.”

Even though Thomas might not have his fairway swagger stride perfected yet, that will not deter him from his No. 1 quest — which is to become No. 1.

“It’s something I’m striving toward,” he said. “I’m working hard, and I’m definitely heading in the right direction. But there’s a lot of really, really good players ahead of me.

“I just need to keep working at it.

“I want to be that guy.”

If you go

What: The Honda Classic.

Where: PGA Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens.

Purse: $6,400,000; $1,152,000 to winner.

Course: Champion Course (7,140 yards; 35-35, par 70).

Top 2016 finishers: 1. Adam Scott (70-65-66-70 — 271); 2. Sergio Garcia, 271; 3. (tie) Blayne Barber, Justin Thomas, 275; 5. Graeme McDowell, 276.

Field, format: 144 players; 72-hole stroke play with cut after second round.

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