Thomas poised to conquer any challenge laid before him at Carnoustie
You may not recognize Justin Thomas this week at The 147th Open. His face painted with scruff thicker than the wispy fescue lining Carnoustie’s fairways.
The new look - the result of laziness throughout a two-week break prior to the third major of the year - adds to the 25-year-old’s boyish charm, he arrives to Carnoustie a man we’ve not seen before on links golf.
This time around, he’s a major champion. This time around, he’s been world No. 1. This is his third time around an Open, and he’s ready to make it memorable.
“It definitely helps having a little better resume than playing in the Opens that I have in the past,” Thomas said. “That being said, it is also in the past, and it's over with. I just need to worry about where I can get my game when I tee off on Thursday."
Not so fast, Thomas. Let’s examine that past a little more closely.
In his only two prior starts in The Open, Thomas missed the cut at Royal Birkdale in 2017 and finished T-53 at Royal Troon in 2016. Pedestrian, sure, but the stats don’t tell the whole story.
“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here. … Two years ago, I was on the bad side of the draw, and it was very difficult to make up ground that way, but then last year I really just had two terrible holes that caused me to miss the cut and not have a chance.”
One of the two holes last year that Thomas is referring to came on Friday at No. 6, where he made quintuple bogey after struggling to get out of the thick rough, chopping at the ball and eventually taking a drop for relief. That, paired with two bogeys and a double bogey resulted in an 80. Despite firing a 67 the day before – he fell two shots outside the cut line.
And then there was 2016, where he got the early-late draw, and was among those having to endure wicked wind and heavy rain on Friday afternoon, as it often goes at Opens.
This year’s outlook appears much rosier – both the weather (dry and sunny all week with wind gusts forecast the worst on Thursday, maxing out at 22 mph) and his chances on a firm, fast links course.
“[The condition of the course] presents a lot of different strategies, you know, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.”
Thinking one’s way around the course this week means lots of irons off tees, and for Justin Thomas – one of the longer hitters on Tour – even an 8-iron could come into play. On Tuesday morning during a practice round alongside Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay, Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller offered Thomas a friendly wager - that he couldn’t make par at No. 15 (a 542-yard par 4) using only an 8-iron. Thomas accepted the challenge and played two balls off the tee – one with an 8-iron and the other with a 5-iron, the club he will more likely put into play off the 15th tee during competition.
The result? He made par with his 8-iron – and won the bet – and made bogey with his other ball.
Will we see 8-iron off the tee from Thomas during the week? Not likely, but the anecdote proves a testament not only to the course conditions, but more importantly, Thomas’ skillset and creativity. Whatever the challenge laid before him at Carnoustie, it appears Thomas is poised to tackle it.
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