The Punter's De-Brief: Thomas survives late scare to win in Hawaii

Justin Thomas pictured on his way to a cosy win in Hawaii
Justin Thomas pictured on his way to a cosy win in Hawaii

Justin Thomas has won the first PGA Tour event of 2017 but our man has a warning for anyone wanting to follow him for the rest of the year. Read Steve's customary look back at last week's golf action here to find out why...

"Tiger Woods had a stellar year in 2000 after he’d won this event for a second time, claiming eight more PGA Tour titles, including three majors, but since then, somewhat remarkably; only four PGA Tour stroke play events have been won on American soil by the winners of this event in the same calendar year."

Having been starved of any golf action for getting on for a month, I was quite hoping for a really exciting weekend at the SBS Tournament of Champions but it didn't quite materialise. A chip-in eagle at the 14th hole by Hideki Matsuyama and a double bogey at the 15th by eventual winner, Justin Thomas, provided some excitement in round four but a two-shot swing at the penultimate hole soon put the result beyond doubt.

After a birdie on the 13th hole, Thomas, who had begun the event trading at around 23.022/1, led the tournament by five strokes and he was trading at just 1.021/50. Matsuyama was matched at a high of 65.064/1 and it looked all over bar the shouting but as so often the case with this game, unexpected things happened in a hurry.

As already stated, Matsuyama holed from off the green at the short par four 14th for eagle but Thomas still led by three with four to play and with two par fives still to come it still looked like a foregone conclusion but it all changed when Thomas hit a terrible second shot into the trees on the par five 15th. That led to a double-bogey seven and he was arguably a little fortunate that Matsuyama missed decent looks for birdie at 15 and 16.

Matsuyama hit a low of 2.6613/8 and Thomas drifted to around the 1.75/7 mark as they both played the 16th in par but a tap in birdie at the tough 17th by Thomas and a three-putt bogey by Matsuyama there changed the complexion of the event again and Thomas went on to win cosily in the end by three.

My Bets

I barely got involved before the off but both my in-play bets, Jimmy Walker (after round one) and Patrick Reed (at halfway), were disappointing so it's been a fairly drab start to 2017.

The late shenanigans led to trading opportunities and while I didn't get to lay any of the really short prices on Thomas, I took him on at an average of 1.241/4, before backing him back at an average of 1.564/7 so losses were reduced to a degree.

With the benefit of hindsight, I didn't trade anywhere near aggressively enough late on to put myself in profit but I've got no real regrets. This was the first time I'd been busy at my laptop in over a month and it was perhaps better to take it easy and make a small loss than to go for it and potential start the year with a mess.

What Have We Learned This Week?

Yet again, up with the pace was the place to be at Kapalua. Thomas sat tied for second after round one, tied for the lead after round two, and with a round to go he led by two.

Driving Distance is a plus but it's not essential and driving accuracy was again irrelevant. The winner ranked 17th for DA, the runner-up 23rd and Dustin Johnson and Brendan Steele finished tied for sixth ranking 28th and 30th for DA respectively. And remember, there were only 32 in the line-up!

Hitting the larger than average greens is clearly easier here than anywhere else. Dustin Johnson (in round four) and Patrick Reed (in round two) both hit all 18 in regulation for the first time in their careers on the PGA Tour so that's not a key stat to get hung up on but Scrambling and Putts Per Green in Regulation are. Thomas ranked third for Scrambling and fourth for PPR so 11 of the last 12 winners have now ranked third or better for Scrambling and the last 13 winners in-a-row have now ranked fourth or better for PPR.

William McGirt threatened briefly yesterday before imploding on the back nine and that was the closest we came to just the third debutant winner in 19 years. Thomas had only finished 21st in his only previous visit but any experience is clearly better than none and I'll again be wary of backing a first timer in 2018.

What Now For Justin Thomas?

It was impossible not to be impressed by Thomas' win yesterday but victory at the SBS Tournament of Champions has been something of a short term curse this century and it might not be safe to assume he's going to kick on and have a great year.

Tiger Woods had a stellar year in 2000 after he'd won this event for a second time, claiming eight more PGA Tour titles, including three majors, but since then, somewhat remarkably; only four PGA Tour stroke play events have been won on American soil by the winners of this event in the same calendar year. Here's a look back at how poorly the winners have fared...

Last year's victor, Jordan Spieth, won just once more on the PGA Tour, at the Dean & Deluca Invitational, before finishing 2016 with victory in the Australian Open. Three wins is a decent haul for most players but Spieth won two majors in 2015 and after his facile victory at Kapalua, he looked certain to have another great year but it wasn't to be. Not many people would have predicted just one scrambled victory on US soil almost six months later and a win Down-Under in a fairly weak field.

The 2015 winner, Patrick Reed, played a further 49 times that year but failed to notch again and the 2014 champ, Zach Johnson, also failed to win again in that calendar year. Dustin Johnson lost his way after taking the title in 2013, before winning the HSBC Champions in China in his final start of the year, and Jonathan Byrd and Steve Stricker have both failed to notch anywhere since they won here in 2011 and 2012.

Geoff Ogilvy drew a blank after he'd defended the title in 2010 and the only other title he won in 2009 was the WGC - Match Play. The shock 2008 winner, Daniel Chopra, never won again on the PGA Tour and the 2007 winner, Vijay Singh, did win once more that year, as did the 2006 champ, Stuart Appleby, but in 2004 and 2005, when the Australian also won the title, he too drew a blank.

The 2003 winner, Ernie Els, doubled up at the Sony Open the following week but never won again and both the 2002 winner, Sergio Garcia, and the 2001 champ, Jim Furyk, failed to win again in the 12 months that followed their successes.

It's a rather bizarre pattern given every winner of this event had obviously won at least once the year before but it's worth bearing in mind. The winner often talks about how nice it is to book their place back in the field for the following year and I wonder if they subconsciously switch off?

Thomas has already followed that trend by saying yesterday. "It changes things going forward 'cause I know I'm coming back here next year." He's, quite rightly, been spoken of as a possible major winner with a fabulous future but on all the evidence set out above, he might be worth swerving for the next 12 months.

The European Tour resumes with the BMW SA Open (South African Open) this week and the PGA Tour stays in Hawaii with the Sony Open. I'll be back later with my previews later today or maybe tomorrow.

*You can follow me on Twitter @SteveThePunter

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