Thomas wins Honda Classic in playoffBy CRAIG DAVIS
February 25. 2018 9:44PM
The Honda Classic couldn’t get the script right. It wasn’t decided by a Tiger roar or a grind through the Bear Trap.
Three players emerged from PGA National’s wet and wild big three (holes 15, 16, 17), usually the great decider on the Champion Course, still in lockstep in the final round as the shadows lengthened late Sunday afternoon.
Ultimately, it took a playoff to settle the matter after Justin Thomas and Luke List finished 72 holes knotted at 8-under par.
Thomas, the reigning PGA Player of the Year, sank a 6-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole, No. 18, to take the title a year after missing the cut. He punctuated his seventh win in 31 starts on the PGA with an emphatic expletive.
Last year, Thomas missed the cut but drove down from his Jupiter home and waited by the same green to congratulate Rickie Fowler on the victory. This time it was Fowler who missed the cut and was there to return the favor.
Earlier, Thomas and List, in the final pairing, both birdied 18 to eliminate Alex Noren, who was already in the clubhouse at 7-under.
So they turned on their heels and headed back to the 18th tee to try it again with the sun setting.
List, a Californian seeking his first win on Tour, sent his drive into trees to the right of the fairway and put his second shot into spectators to the left of the green, coming to rest a foot from the wall of the viewing stands.
He made a nice recovery after a relief drop. But List’s adventure opened the door for Thomas, who put his second shot on the green to set up a routine birdie.
Thomas, whose win in the PGA Championship highlighted a breakout season in 2017, showed his pedigree on the final hole in regulation with a clutch approach from 115 yards to within three feet of the pin on his third shot.
For much of the day it was a virtual dead-heat among five players with Tommy Fleetwood and Webb Simpson also taking turns in the lead. Bogeys on 14 and 15 dropped Fleetwood to a fourth-place finish at 6-under. Simpson stumbled with three bogeys on the back and tied for fifth with Byeong Hun An, who matched the best round of the day at 65.
Tiger Woods finished a respectable 12th at even-par after closing with a 70.
They call it the tricky three-hole gauntlet on the back nine the Bear Trap in honor of Jack Nicklaus, but it was the Tiger Trap this week.
Woods got to 3-under by sinking an 18-foot birdie putt on 14 to move into a tie for sixth. Then he strolled into the Bear Tap and plunked his tee shot into the water well short of the green on 15. That led to a double-bogey that effectively sunk his hopes for a late rally.
Another bogey on 16 left him with five bogeys and two double-bogeys in the Bear Trap for the tournament.
After wind played havoc on scores in the first three rounds, particularly Thursday and Friday, the Champion Course lost its teeth in much calmer conditions.
The indication that this might be different than the first three rounds came when players in the morning, low in the standings, began posting birdies in bunches. As it turned out, some of the best scores of the day came from players without pressure to do so.
Stuart native Derek Fathauer, tied for 54th place after 54 holes, closed with a 65, equaling the best round of the tournament.
Dominic Bozzelli, beginning the day at 1-under, quickly charged into contention with birdies on the first three holes. But this course is never a picnic, especially with the greens playing fast and bumpy all week, and Bozzelli quickly fell back with a couple of bogeys.
Argentinian Emiliano Grillo, who started the round at 2-over, birdied four of the first six holes and completed the front nine in 30 and climbed all the way to an eighth-place finish with a 66 that lifted him to minus-2.
It wasn’t smooth sailing for everyone. Rory McIlroy had a brutal finish with a classic Bear Trap misadventure when he hit two balls in the water on 17 and took a seven on the way to finishing the tournament 9-over.