(Reuters) – Justin Thomas recovered from a late double-bogey and held off a last-day challenge by Japan’s in-form Hideki Matsuyama to clinch his third PGA Tour victory, by three shots at the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii on Sunday.
The long-hitting American had been a commanding five strokes in front with five holes to play at the Kapalua Resort on the island of Maui before his lead was stunningly cut to just one after 15 holes.
Thomas then benefited from a two-shot swing at the par-four 17th, where he sank a three-footer for birdie after Matsuyama had three-putted for bogey, and also birdied the last to close with a four-under 69 in the PGA Tour’s opening event of the year.
The 23-year-old from Kentucky, whose previous two titles on the circuit had both come at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, finished with a 22-under total of 270 in the elite 32-man, winners-only field.
“It’s a great feeling,” Thomas told Golf Channel after securing his second victory in his past four starts, and jumping from 22nd to 12th in the world rankings.
“I obviously stumbled a bit more than I would have liked to on some of those holes but I think it really shows where my game is at right now.
“I had some lows there in the second part of the nine but I stuck it out to still get it done.”
Matsuyama, who carded 70 for second place, has won four of his past six starts, finishing runner-up the other two occasions, both times behind Thomas.
World number six Matsuyama trimmed the deficit to three shots when he holed out with a brilliant flop shot from the left rough to eagle the par-four 14th and was then gifted a further two shots at the par-five 15th where Thomas ran up a double-bogey after hooking his second into a hazard.
Asked whether Matsuyama’s eagle had changed his mindset, Thomas replied: “No … just because I am still trying to make a bunch of birdies. It didn’t really change even after 15, after I had botched that hole up.
“But that was an unbelievable chip he (Matsuyama) hit. I had good looks (on 15 and 16) but they were just putts that I had to be so tentative with … there wasn’t much I could do.”
Matsuyama, aiming to become the first Japanese player to win back-to-back PGA Tour titles, stalled in his quest for yet another victory when he missed 10-foot birdie putts at the 15th and 16th.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Andrew Both)