TOUR Championship: Justin Thomas feeling the Sawgrass vibe

PLAYERS Championship winner says his game is in a good place again as he seeks victory in the PGA TOUR’s season-ender in Atlanta.

When Justin Thomas produced a brilliant weekend surge to take victory in the prestigious PLAYERS Championship at Sawgrass in March, it seemed that 2021 could be a huge one.

But that win - his 14th on the PGA TOUR - remains JT's sole success as the season reaches its climax with this week's TOUR Championship at East Lake.

It's not that he's had a string of near misses either in a campaign that has underwhelmed.

Thomas was expected to be a big force in the Majors: after all, it was four years since he'd won one and, as one of the world's best players, multiple challenges were expected.

And yet, by his own standards, he flopped: tied 21st at The Masters, missed cut in the PGA Championship, tied 19th in the US Open and tied 40th in the Open Championship.

Far from using Sawgrass as a springboard, Thomas has spent the rest of this year with his feet mostly stuck in mud.

The 28-year-old won five times on the PGA TOUR in 2017 and enjoyed two-win seasons in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

To keep that sequence going, he has to take victory at East Lake this Sunday.

The bad news: the staggered leaderboard format means he'll start the event six shots behind FedEx Cup leader Patrick Cantlay.

Thomas is at -4, meaning he gives shots to Cantlay (-10), Tony Finau (-8), Bryson DeChambeau (-7), Jon Rahm (-6) and Cameron Smith (-5).

The good news: JT has an excellent record at East Lake. He's never finished worse than ninth in five visits, ending runner-up four years ago - a result which saw him land the 2017 FedEx Cup trophy - and tied for second last year under the new scoring system.

And after fourth place in The Northern Trust two starts ago, could he be peaking at the perfect time as he looks to make a Sawgrass-style charge and scoop the FedEx Cup jackpot for a second time?

You wouldn't put it past him and, at the odds, he looks worth a bet to finish with a bang.

Here's what Thomas said to the press on Tuesday:

On East Lake

"I absolutely love this golf course, very similar to how I feel about Sawgrass. It's a place that I get comfortable every time I come to and I feel like it's a place I am going to win at some point in my career. It's obviously a little different now with the staggered start, and starting as far back as I am this week. But I do know that if you drive the ball well, you really, really can tear this place up. So that's kind of the game plan this week and seeing if we can do some damage and try to get another one."

On the staggered scoring system

"I like it more now than I feel like I did when I first heard it. It's tough. I mean, it's easier for people to understand at home, which I think was the main reason that it's happened or that it kind of came about, and having the opportunity to have a different TOUR Championship winner than FedExCup.

"I'm not really a big fan of whoever finishes lowest wins the golf tournament because that's not necessarily the fact and winning golf tournaments out here is a big deal. So I personally wish that that wasn't a thing because, I mean, you know, obviously, if you're 10-under, you have a lot better chance to win the actual tournament versus everyone starting at the same score.

"And then you obviously get into the fact of, I could have the greatest season of all time on the PGA TOUR. I could win 15 times in a season and I could come here and I could just have something just detrimental happen to where I either can't play or I have an injury and I don't play, then I finish 30th in the FedExCup because of that. And I don't think that's fair. I think that's something that could somehow be tweaked or fixed.

"But I do like the fact that everybody that's here this week knows exactly where they stand and they know what they have to do and they just have to go out and get it."

On the state of his game and his year

"State of my game is, it's good. It's getting a lot better. I felt like last week (BMW Championship) was not really a very good place to kind of show how you were playing. I mean, it was, clearly, by the way the score showed, it was a very easy golf course and it was just if you weren't making a lot of putts, then you weren't going to have a chance to win.

"I was hitting a lot of good putts that were just kind of burning edges and just missing, so that's why I finished where I did (T22).

In terms of the year, I mean, I would, golf-wise, I mean, I would call it a poor year. I mean, I didn't play very well in the Majors. I won The PLAYERS. That was my only win or has been so far, at least, and I got off to a good start and just really kind of stalled once the year started and I have been working probably harder than I ever have and I've travelled more than I ever have this year. And, I mean, I think that stuff, although you don't like to use it as an excuse, can sometimes weigh on you more than I probably know.

"But I've been excited for this last stretch because I feel like I'm getting closer and closer to where I need to be. I'm mentally in a lot better state than I was in the middle, second third of the year, where I just wasn't really in a very good place mentally. So come this time of year, that's very important. So like I said earlier, I'm excited to see what this week holds."

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