By Adam Schupak
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In a city where Elvis Presley called home, Justin Thomas returned to being the king of the golf world.
Thomas reclaimed the title of World No. 1, breaking out of a logjam with birdies at 15 and 16 to win the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational by three strokes over Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger, Tom Lewis and Phil Mickelson.
“It was a hard-fought day,” Thomas said. “I haven’t exactly played well coming from behind in the past and I feel like I learned a lot from that.”
Thomas, a Louisville native who played at the University of Alabama, who started the day trailing by four strokes and made birdies at two of the first three holes at TPC Southwind en route to shooting 5-under 65 for a 72-hole total of 13-under 267.
Thomas grabbed a share of the lead at the ninth with a 21-foot birdie putt, but his lone bogey of the day at 12 created a five-way tie at the top of the leaderboard.
Daniel Berger was among them, but he made a bogey at 18 to finish with 65 and Englishman Tom Lewis gave back a stroke at 17 to fall out of the trophy hunt. Lewis backed up a 61 with a 66 on Sunday for his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour, while Berger earned a spot into the U.S. Open in September. Third-round leader Brendon Todd failed to make a birdie and ballooned to 5-over 75.
That left major winners Thomas and Koepka, the defending champion, to duke it out. Thomas pulled in front with a birdie at 15 from 6 feet after catching a good break when he snap-hooked a 5-wood off tee.
“That’s the kind of stuff that happens when you win,” Thomas said.
He tacked on a short birdie putt at the par-5 16th a hole that proved to be a turning point. Koepka, who has struggled all season and suggested he potentially may need another stem-cell surgery to his surgically-repaired left knee, made a costly bogey at 16 when he pitched long, but closed to within one stroke by canning a 35-foot birdie putt at 17. Koepka still had a chance at the final hole, but he tugged his tee shot into the penalty area and made double bogey.
“You’ve got to take an aggressive line on 18, so it is what it is,” said Koepka, who is rounding into form just in time to attempt to three-peat at the PGA Championship next week.
Thomas played alongside Phil Mickelson in the final round, and had Mickelson’s caddie of 25 years, Jim “Bones” Mackay, on his bag this week as a fill-in for Jimmy Johnson, who suffered dizziness two weeks ago at The Memorial. It was a reunion of sorts for Mickelson and Mackay, who won 42 times together before parting ways in 2017, following the Memphis Tour stop. Mackay has become an on-course reporter for NBC and Golf Channel, but returned to active duty last month, caddying for Matthew Fitzpatrick for two weeks, and agreed to work for Thomas at the PGA Championship next week.
“We’re getting more comfortable every day,” Thomas said. “Bones did a great job and I was very lucky that he has been there a lot more than I have, so he handled the situation well.”
Thomas already had notched victories at the CJ Cup in Korea and the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii this season. He held a three-stroke lead with three holes to go at the Workday Charity Open last month, but lost in a playoff. He proved that there was little scar tissue from that defeat. Thomas became the third-youngest player to win 13 times on the PGA Tour behind only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus.
Spaniard Jon Rahm, who finished T-54, had a short two-week reign as World No. 1. Thomas previously held the distinction for a four-week stretch in 2018. He’ll aim to stay atop the rankings at the season’s first major, the PGA Championship, a title he won in 2017.
“Right now I’m obviously very happy and elated that we got it done today,” Thomas said, “but I need to work on some things and get ready for the PGA next week and try to win another major.”