Justin Thomas fires course record 61 at Tournament of Champions and reveals secret of going low

The 28-year-old torched his way around the Plantation Course at Kapalua shortly before Jon Rahm completed a repeat.

Justin Thomas started the first week of the golfing year feeling happy.

"When you come here to Hawaii, it's pretty hard not to be in a good mood, you know what I mean?" he said ahead of the first round of the Tournament of Champions.

His last five starts had reaped two wins and two third placed finishes on the Plantation Course at Kapalua so what was not to like?

Unfortunately, the first two days of action took a repeat of the trophy-lifting straight out of the equation.

"I couldn't get anything going, Thursday," he said of posting a first round 74. "I wasn't hitting it good, plenty of squirrelly shots here and there. I just wasn't making anything."

And, despite adding an improved 67 on Friday, the fact that he had, at one stage, been propping the entire field up from the wrong end of the leaderboard was, he admitted, "pretty humbling".

His response at the weekend? A course record setting 12-under-par 61, one which Jon Rahm equalled later on a day of blistering scoring in benign conditions.

Thomas was not exactly surprised by his score, more by the nature of it.

"I played well," he said. "But it was all really solid and kind of in front of me. I didn't do anything crazy. I really wasn't crazy aggressive today at all.

"I just took advantage of all easy opportunities I had and hit a lot of really good drives, quality iron shots and wedges in there.

"When you have wedge in your hand with soft greens, you just attack. It doesn't matter if you're in last or first. You're just trying to make birdies and I felt like that's what I did.

"I was so far back, it's not like I could really look at the leaderboard and try to play any differently. I was just trying to birdie every hole we played.

"But if there's such a thing as an easy 12-under, I definitely felt like it was."

He made three birdies and an eagle-3 on the front nine, added another five birdies and a second eagle-3 after the turn, and didn't miss a single green in regulation shots.

The effort vaulted him into a tie for eighth on 17-under 202, but he trails the leaders Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith by nine heading into Sunday's final round.

Rather than contemplate a highly unlikely bid for a third title, he instead pondered what it is that permits elite golfers to go low.

"Golf fans just need to understand what causes scores," he said. "I think everybody, they just say, 'Oh, they're hitting it so far now, that's why it's so low.'

"It's like, no, it's so low because it's so soft and, if you give us soft conditions, fairways this big, we're going to shoot nothing.

"Then, if you give us no wind, we're going to shoot even lower.

"Look at a place like Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach is (only) 6,900 yards and yet, when it gets firm, it's all you want.

"But you give us a place like Erin Hills - that was a bazillion yards long, but it was soft and Brooks (Koepka) shot 16-under to win the US Open."

The 28-year-old ended his day with an entertaining little to-and-fro about his other experiences of going low:

Thomas on course records

Q: Do you remember the first time you ever set a course record?

A: Yes. A World Junior Championship practice round. I can't remember the name of the golf course. I was like probably nine years old. It was like an executive course.

Q: In San Diego?

A: It was, but I just remember because Tiger had the course record, and I remember beating him, and it was like the coolest thing obviously I had ever done at that time. Something tells me it's not still standing. But it was the first one I'd ever broken and I was pretty pumped about that.

Q: In recent years have you mentioned that to him at all?

A: I haven't because he'd just say something back which would make me feel about this big, so …

Q: Do they mean something to you any more?

A: Course records? Yeah. It definitely means something.

Q: Have you ever gone to a course, found out what the course record was, and made sure you didn't break it just to let the poor stiff keep his mark?

A: No, I'm too competitive for that. To be perfectly honest, I don't care about some stiff. I would much rather beat 'em.

READ MORE: Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith ride the birdie train: Final round preview of the Tournament of Champions

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