Justin Thomas stands up to pressure to win BMW Championship by 3 shots

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Justin Thomas stands up to pressure to win BMW Championship by 3 shots

PGA Tour

Justin Thomas stands up to pressure to win BMW Championship by 3 shots

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MEDINAH, Ill. – Justin Thomas remained patient and held his nerve to win the BMW Championship Sunday at saturated Medinah Country Club, his 10th PGA Tour title and first since last August.

And he has a jump on No. 11 as the victory affords him a two-shot lead at the start of next week’s season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta, where a revamped scoring structure features a staggered leaderboard and the winner will bag $15 million.

Thomas, who started the final round with a six-shot lead but saw his advantage shrink to two, closed with a 4-under-par 68 to finish at 25 under and three shots clear of Patrick Cantlay.

Thomas tied the course record with a 65 in the first round and set the course record with a 61 in the third round. Birdies at 11, 13 and 15 were key to holding off his closest pursuers Sunday, and Thomas finished with a birdie on the 18th.

Cantlay closed with a 65, while Hideki Matsuyama finished five back at 20 under after his second 63 of the week.

“To shoot 4 under how I played I think is very impressive,” said Thomas, who began with a bogey and had to hit a shot left-handed from under a tree on the 10th that led to another bogey. “I played awful for 10 holes. I very rarely hit shots that were exactly what I wanted and so that’s tough when you’re trying to win a golf tournament.”

BMW CHAMPIONSHIP: Final leaderboard

But he stayed patient – even when Cantlay pulled within two shots after three consecutive birdies starting on the seventh and Matsuyama pulled within two after six birdies in seven holes.

“I was really nervous going into today, had been awhile since I won,” said Thomas, who missed three tournaments this year because of a wrist injury. “I remember that it’s really hard to win a golf tournament and I’m glad that I was able to do so.”

And it was more rewarding to have done so the way he did, rather than if he had won by 10 shots.

“It’s always easy when things are going well. When your back is up against the wall or when you get pressured or put a little heat on you, I think how you respond is sometimes a little bit better or shows a little bit more,” Thomas said. “I just kept telling myself I was beating everybody by six through three rounds with a very mediocre Friday. I felt I was playing better than everybody else and I felt that I was good enough I was going to be just fine.”

And now, for the first time in his life, Thomas, the FedEx Cup winner in 2017, will start with a two-shot lead before a golf ball is hit in competition. In a first, the PGA Tour created this staggered scoring measure to simplify matters and do away with confusion at the season finale.

“I can certainly say 1,000 percent I never slept on a Wednesday lead, but I’m definitely excited for that and I’m just going to try to win the golf tournament as if everybody starts at zero,” Thomas said.

As the FedEx Cup points leader, Thomas will try to join Tiger Woods as the only players to win the FedEx Cup twice. He will start the Tour Championship at 10 under par. He’ll be two clear of Cantlay, who is second in the standings, and three clear of world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, who’s ho-hum week dropped him to third in the standings.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be weird. It’s going to be different, I know that, but I don’t know what it will feel like,” Thomas said of having the lead. “I just know that I’m in a lot better position than I was at the start of the week. I just have to be grateful and thankful for that.”

Four back will be Patrick Reed and five back will be former FedEx Cup champion Rory McIlroy.

Those sixth through 10th – Jon Rahm, Matt Kuchar, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson and Abraham Ancer – start at 4 under and six shots back. Those 11th through 15th – Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson and Matsuyama – will be at 3 under.

The 16th through 20th in the standings – Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Rickie Fowler and Kevin Kisner – start at 2 under.

Those 21st through 25th – Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood, Corey Conners, Sungjai Im and Chez Reavie – will be at 1 under.

At even par and 10 shots back will be the last five among the top 30 – Bryson DeChambeau, Louis Oosthuizen, Charles Howell III, Lucas Glover and Jason Kokrak.

Not that Kokrak minds. He tied for 19th and claimed the final spot by 11 points over Kevin Tway.

Kokrak, Matsuyama and Glover were the only players to start the BMW Championship outside the top 30 and make it to East Lake. Players who started the tournament inside the top 30 but fell out were Champion Golfer of the Year Shane Lowry, Harold Varner III and Andrew Putnam.

Kokrak has never won in 209 starts on the PGA Tour, but he’ll be heading to the Masters for the first time next year. And he has playing spots in the other three majors by getting to the Tour Championship.

“To not win and make the top 30 is a pretty solid year,” Kokrak said. “I’ve never played the Masters. I’m in all the big events. I can make my own schedule a little bit easier, go through the year a little bit different than I normally do.”

The biggest names that won’t be heading to East Lake are Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.

Woods’ campaign ended on a sour note as he closed with a 72 to finish 17 shots behind Thomas and 42nd in the standings. He won’t be able to defend his title at East Lake, where he capped his remarkable return to the game after spinal fusion with a victory in last year’s Tour Championship.

Wood will now put on his captain’s cap as he’ll lead the USA charges in the Presidents Cup in Australia in December.

Eight of his 12 players were determined at the end of the BMW Championship. Woods will make four captain’s picks at the end of the HSBC Champions in Shanghai in November. Those four will join world Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Thomas, Schauffele, Kuchar, Simpson, Cantlay and DeChambeau on the team.

“This is going to be our core of the team and I can’t wait to reach out to all of them,” said Woods, who is scheduled to play next in the Zozo Championship in Japan in October.

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