How and why Justin Thomas tore through the field to win THE PLAYERS Championship

The American reigned supreme over the weekend rounds at TPC Sawgrass to claim a 14th PGA TOUR title.

With his victory in the 2021 PLAYERS Championship, Justin Thomas didn't just defeat a world class field.

He destroyed it.

At the weekend, at least.

Through 36 holes at TPC Sawgrass in Florida he merely toyed with his peers, opening with two rounds of 71 that left him T22nd and seven shots back of the lead.

Had it not been for a late Friday surge he would have been even further back, but two late birdies presented him with the opportunity to pounce and he didn't waste the chance.

Consider this: four players completed those weekend rounds in 7-under-par and one (Victor Perez) even managed to get as low as 8-under-par.

Thomas, in contrast, played them in 12-under the card for a 14-under total of 274.

It was a sensational performance that left 54-hole leader Lee Westwood one shot adrift on 13-under with Brian Harman and Bryson DeChambeau a further blow back in a tie for third.

Let's take a closer at the key factors in Thomas' stunning win.

In total control of his swing ...

On Sunday Thomas landed 17-of-18 greens in regulation also gained over five shots on the field from tee-to-green.

Little wonder he concluded: "Probably one of the best rounds of my life tee to green. Total control of the ball."

... and also of his mind

Early on Sunday the almost flawless long game was getting no reward, but he hung tough and it mattered, impacting positively on every aspect of his game.

"I was hitting a lot of good putts, just wasn't holing anything," he said.

"But I fought so hard and I stayed really patient. I was in such a great frame of mind and focused all day.

"Right from the first tee, I was in a zone and had a focus that felt like I could make the ball do what I wanted with it, and it felt like I could hit the putts exactly how I wanted. It was nice to get in that little head space."

The turning point (s)

Thomas' weekend rounds of 64-68 tied the tournament record for the closing 36 holes. In that stretch he gained 11.180 strokes on the field, the most by any player in the final two rounds since tracking began in 2004.

Thomas was clutch all through the final day.
Thomas was clutch all through the final day.

It's obvious that it was a magnificent effort to tick 11 birdies and two eagles over those 36 holes, but he also needed triggering and Thomas revealed that it was the final three holes on Friday that set him up for the charge at the line.

"That definitely changed the momentum for the tournament," he said. "Making birdie at 16 and then birdie on 18 was huge. I rode that wave into Saturday."

The second critical juncture was his reaction to making bogey at the eighth in the final round.

He didn't panic, stayed patient, and the par breakers spilled forth.

He played the next four holes in 5-under-par to grab a lead he never relinquished.

When it mattered, he pulled the trigger

The final two holes at TPC Sawgrass test the nerves. Thomas found the green at the par-3 17th, but in playing safe he left himself an awkward two-putt and that become a difficult par-saver from 5-feet.

When he drained it, he punched the air - and then took the walk to the 18th tee.

There he faced the famously narrow fairway with water all the way down the left.

It's a bold play to hit a right-to-left shape, but Thomas did so. He nailed it, but his ball flew perilously close to the lake and needed a good bounce to avoid kicking into the hazard.

He'd not only refused to shy away from a bold play, he'd also pulled it off.

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Was he nervous watching the progress of his tee shot, though?

"Oh, for sure," he said. "I can't lie and I thought it was very 50/50 if it was going to be dry or in the water.

"The only thing I knew is that I just absolutely smoked it.

"Obviously the farther up you get the better chance you have, and I knew that if you're able to kind of reach that little like downslope that I did, it will kind of get rolling.

"That's the kind of stuff that happens when you win tournaments. You get lucky breaks like that."

The Tiger effect

For a second week running the winner revealed that he'd exchanged text messages with Tiger Woods ahead of the final round. Thomas was a little reticent about the details, but it clearly had a positive impression on him.

"I was replaying what he told me a lot in my head," he said. "I always appreciate his help.

"(What he said) is just between us, but he said just to stay patient.

"If you would have told us guys when we were 15-years-old that Tiger Woods was texting us the night before we have a chance to win the tournament, trying to inspire us? That's pretty cool."

The sequel is never as good

In our final round preview we noted that last pairing Lee Westwood and Bryson DeChambeau had developed something of a bromance during Sunday of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, not only conducting a thrilling duel, but clearly enjoying one another's company rather like an oddball pairing in a buddy movie.

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That notion was fuelled by tweets the pair send out ahead of THE PLAYERS final lap, but we should always beware the sequel - it's very rarely as good.

Scene (hole) six was particularly poor - DeChambeau topped his ball from the tee box and made double bogey, Westwood responded in sympathy with a bogey of his own.

The pair didn't have the same vibe or electricity as seven days earlier and Thomas took full advantage.

The future

Thomas is now 11/1 with Paddy Power to win the Masters (he finished fourth there last November).

He's also 12/1 with the same firm to claim a second PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in May.

READ MORE: Dave Tindall has taken an in-depth look at Thomas' chances in all the 2021 Major Championships.

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