Justin Thomas gets hot late at Valspar, but misses ‘seven’ putts that ‘easily could have gone’
Justin Thomas was feeling great about his game, but his putts just weren’t dropping. So after an even-par front-nine to start his Valspar Championship, Thomas’ caddie, Jim “Bones” MacKay told him to stay “patient” — and it was worth the wait.
It started with a birdie on No. 11 and then a monster eagle on the par-5 14th, where he hit his approach shot 273 yards over the water and trees to the green and then canned a 64-foot left-to-right putt.
“It was after a great drive and a great 3-wood in there. I hit those two shots exactly how I would have planned it out,” said Thomas, who sits T-9 after a 5-under 66 first round. “It was clearly not one I’m trying to make, you’re just trying to get the speed right. I will say it’s kind of a feeder, if you can get it, get the speed right it’s one of those that, at least a lot of really, really good putters will tell you, or just good players, will say you get it the right speed it kind of finds the fall line when you get those big breakers like that.”
Thomas, though, had quite the encore. He birdied the par-3 15th and the par-4 16th by leaving his approach shot with a 9-iron from 151 yards out just more than a foot from the hole.
But for the 28-year-old, who finished the first round 117th in strokes gained: putting, Innisbrook’s greens have Thomas two shots off a four-way tie for the lead.
“I played really well. I drove the ball beautifully, hit a lot of really quality iron shots, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a round that I’ve hit so many good putts that haven’t gone in,” Thomas said. “These greens are very tough to read to where the grain is very subtle and it goes a lot of different ways. They do a great job with the pin positions of kind of putting them on little subtle spots that maybe stop breaking when they get to the hole or whatever. And man, I hit a lot of really, really good, I mean, probably five, six, seven putts today felt like that easily could have gone in that didn’t.”
Despite missing five putts from inside 15 feet on the front nine, plus two from roughly 10 feet on the back, the 14-time PGA Tour winner said he “putted beautifully” and didn’t feel the need to head to the putting green after his round. Sometimes golf is a perplexing game and Thomas will stick to his gameplan in Round 2 as he hopes to notch his first win since the 2021 Players.
“I’m playing with one of the best putters in golf (Kevin Kisner) and he’s kind of confused on some putts, too,” he said. “I mean that goes to show you, it’s not — it’s a stupid game that we play sometimes. I hit a lot of great putts inside of 12 feet that burned the edge and didn’t go in and then I made a 64-footer. So sometimes, it doesn’t make sense.”