Emotional Justin Thomas savors swan song win at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

Aug 5, 2018; Akron, OH, USA; PGA golfer Justin Thomas hugs his grandmother after winning the WGC - Bridgestone Invitational golf tournament at Firestone Country Club - South Course. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports

Emotional Justin Thomas savors swan song win at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

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Emotional Justin Thomas savors swan song win at WGC-Bridgestone Invitational

AKRON, Ohio – Justin Thomas bent down to hug his grandmother, Phyllis, before walking off the 18th hole. He’d just won the final installment of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone surrounded by family.

His grandparents live in Ohio outside Columbus, not far from Akron. His grandfather, Paul, is a former club pro and played at the 1960 PGA Championship at Firestone. It was the first time they ever saw their grandchild win on the PGA Tour, and the moment wasn’t lost on Justin, who wiped tears from his eyes as he walked to sign for a 1-under 69 in the final round.

An emotional scene, for sure.

“I can’t really put it into words, honestly,” Thomas said. “When I had my (final) putt, I marked it and turned around and just happened to see my parents, saw my grandma and grandpa, and I just got a huge knot in my throat and had to put my head down. I never have gotten like that on the golf course before. You just don’t know if they’re ever going to see me win if I don’t win here, so it was pretty cool to get it done.”

Not far west of the scoring trailer, a large PGA Tour merchandise tent had been set up for the week.

Among the few remaining items on display Sunday was a $30 Levelwear Bridgestone Senior Players tee shirt, the event set to take over in 2019 as the PGA Tour’s longstanding and history-filled relationship with Firestone comes to an end.

“Oh, man. I’m going to miss this place,” said Tiger Woods, an eight-time winner at Firestone. “I’m going to miss playing here, I’m going to miss the people. I’ve had so many great memories, and it’s just sad that we’re not coming back here anymore. … Unfortunately, we have to move on.”

Earlier in the week Thomas noted that Woods’ eight victories here matched his career total. That’s no longer true, with Thomas moving to nine career wins thanks a 15-under 265 for the week. Woods fought his swing over four rounds and finished a disappointing T-31 at even par.

Thomas entered the final round with a three-shot lead and hung tough, with eight pars and a birdie on the back nine to finish strong. Rory McIlroy, fresh off a runner-up finish at the British Open and BMW PGA Championships, started Sunday three back in the final group with Thomas and said Saturday he’s getting tired of second-place finishes.

That wasn’t a problem Sunday – McIlroy shot 3-over 73 and finished T-6, making for another disappointing final round as he heads to St. Louis looking for his third PGA Championship title.

Kyle Stanley finished alone in second after a 2-under 68 Sunday, while Dustin Johnson and Thorbjørn  Olesen each shot 64 to finish T-3.  Fresh off last week’s win at the Canadian Open, Johnson enters Bellerive as the clear betting favorite.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in my game and I’m really looking forward to next week,” Johnson said.

Thomas has a lot to look forward to, as well. Next week he has a chance to repeat as PGA Championship winner, and he just made another memory of a lifetime as the PGA Tour bid Akron farewell.

“I wish it was here every year now, obviously,” Thomas said. “To be on this run we’ve been on the last, whatever, two years or year and a half, whatever it may be, we’ve put a lot of hard work in, so it’s not like it’s been gifted to us. … You look at the list of (Firestone) winners and it’s not a coincidence. So it’s pretty cool to have my name added to those, and to win the last event here at Firestone, it’s pretty cool.” Gwk

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