CHAMPIONS
USGA Champions Begin 2017 With Strong Play Worldwide January 17, 2017 | Far Hills, N.J. By David Shefter and Scott Lipsky, USGA

A 20-under total of 260 wasn't enough for 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose to catch Justin Thomas in Hawaii last week. (USGA/Michael Cohen)

Most weeks, the performances of 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and three-time USGA champion Jordan Spieth last week would have won or challenged for the trophy. Rose posted a 20-under-par total of 260 at the Sony Open in Hawaii, while Spieth, the 2015 U.S. Open champion, was one back at Waialae Country Club on Oahu.

Unfortunately, they were on the same golf course as Justin Thomas and had to settle for second and third place. A member of the victorious 2013 USA Walker Cup Team and the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur runner-up produced his second consecutive scintillating performance, this time in record-setting fashion. Thomas, 23, began the tournament by becoming the seventh player in PGA Tour history – and youngest ever – to card a 59, and finished it off on Sunday with a 5-under 65 for a 27-under total of 253. That broke the 72-hole Tour scoring record of 254 previously held by Tommy Armour III (2003 Valero Texas Open).

Thomas also became the second player to sweep the two Hawaii-based events, joining Ernie Els in 2003. He won the SBS Tournament of Champions a week earlier on the Plantation Course at the Kapalua Resort on Maui.

“I won the other competition this week, so I take a little bit of credit from that because he’s (Thomas) obviously incredibly hot right now,” Rose told pgatour.com after signing for a 64 on Sunday. “Coming down the stretch, we were playing for second. I turned it on and went through a couple of gears there.”

Meanwhile, Spieth closed with a 63 on Sunday after struggling with his putter the first three rounds to place third, eight strokes behind his good friend Thomas. Said Spieth, who played with Thomas when he shot 59 on Thursday, “He’s certainly showing the world what he’s capable of.”“Still not the best putting week overall,” said Spieth of his own performance, “but a tremendous day today and I have plenty of time to work on it before we play next.”

Thomas, who jumped to No. 8 in the Official World Golf Ranking, now has four PGA Tour victories. His next logical step: win a major championship.

“I’m a lot more confident going into it this year,” said Thomas. I’m excited for the rest of the year.”

Another 59 Watch

While Thomas shot 59 on Thursday, two other players, including 2001 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Chez Reavie, made a run at that magical number during the tournament. Kevin Kisner shot a 10-under 60 on Saturday and Reavie was trending toward that number into his second nine on Sunday before settling for a 61 that earned him a share of eighth at 16-under 264. Reavie shot a 7-under 28 on the inward nine – he started his final round on No. 10 – that included an ace on the par-3 17th hole with a 6-iron from 189 yards. A bogey on the par-4 sixth ended his hopes for a 59.

“I was trying to get it to 20 under, to be honest with you,” Reavie told pgatour.com. “When I got it to 16 through 11 holes, I was trying to shoot as low as I could.”

Close Call for Rory

World No. 2 Rory McIlroy had a strong finish to 2016, winning two events during the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup Playoffs before finishing up overseas with a pair of top-10 performances. The 2011 U.S. Open champion kept the momentum going into the new year, finishing as the runner-up on Sunday in his 2017 debut in the European Tour’s BMW SA Open at Glendower Golf Club in Gauteng, South Africa.

McIlroy battled back from a three-shot deficit during the final round, carding a 4-under 68 to pull even with 54-hole leader and eventual winner Graeme Storm, of England. The duo played three playoff holes, and McIlroy was faced with an 8-foot par putt to extend it to a fourth hole.

“It’s not a bad way to start the season and gives me something to build on in the weeks ahead,” said McIlroy, who was looking for his 14th career win on the European Tour, and withdrew from this week’s Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship after having an MRI that revealed a stress fracture in his ribs. He was planning to make his 2017 U.S. debut at the Honda Classic in February.

Showing Their Mettle With the Men

Four LPGA players, including a pair of USGA champions, teed it up with some of the PGA Tour Champions’ best this past week in the Diamond Resorts Invitational at the Four Seasons Orlando. The 54-hole event, which also featured sports and entertainment celebrities, was contested under the modified Stableford format. The 27 PGA Tour Champions’ competitors and four LPGA competitors, who included reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion Brittany Lang, 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lexi Thompson, and fellow major champions Brittany Lincicome and Brooke Henderson, competed from the same tees. Thompson led the way among the quartet, finishing 11th with a total of 83 points.

While Lang finished 30th in the 31-player field, tallying 66 points, she definitely impressed her playing partner in the final round, actor Alfonso Ribiero, best known for playing Carlton Banks in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” 

Thompson’s playing partners included former All-Star pitcher Mark Mulder, professional tennis player Mardy Fish and current Toronto Blue Jays infielder Josh Donaldson.

Woody Austin, who shot a 59 in Round 1, won the event with a total of 104 points. 2013 U.S. Senior Open champion Kenny Perry finished tied for third, while two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen tied for eighth.

David Shefter is a senior writer and Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email them at dshefter@usga.org and slipsky@usga.org.

More from the USGA