The two hottest golfers as we begin the 2017 PGA Tour season (which actually started in 2016) are not named McIlroy, Day or Spieth.
With his second consecutive victory in Hawaii at last week’s Sony Hawaiian Open, 23-year old Justin Thomas set a new PGA Tour scoring record with a four round total of 253 (27-under par) for a 4-round event.
In the opening round, Thomas became only the seventh player (and the youngest) in history to break the magical 60 barrier when he shot a superlative 59.
Thomas won his second consecutive CIMB Classic in October and then captured the SBS Tournament of Champions at Kapalua on the first weekend in January. In both of those events Hideki Matsuyama was the runner-up.
Thomas joins some elite company becoming only the second player in the last 30 years to win 3 of his first 5 starts on Tour (Tiger Woods is the other). He is also only the second player to win the “Hawaiian Double” (Ernie Els won both events in 2003) and his cumulative score for the two weeks was a staggering 45-under par.
The Louisville, Kentucky native who went to the University of Alabama is one of the young twenty-something’s stars on Tour and is close friends with Jordan Spieth. His win at the Sony propelled him to #8 in the Rolex World Golf rankings and on the cusp of being in the conversation with the new Big 3 (Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth).
Matsuyama has been scintillating since last September with a 7 tournament stretch that includes 4 wins and 3 runner-up finishes. In two of those wins, Matsuyama romped to 7-stroke margins of victory at both the Mitsui Sumitomo Visa Taiheiyo Masters and the WGC-HSBC Champions. The WBC Champions (his 3rd career victory on the PGA Tour) win in October was the biggest win to-date for the 24-year old Japanese superstar.
Matsuyama then captured the elite field Hero Challenge (Tiger Woods’s event) in the Bahamas in December with a 2 shot win over Henrik Stenson with another masterful display of ball striking and a 4-day total of 18-under par. His fourth win was at the Japan Open.
Matsuyama’s torrid play has seen him rise from 16th all the way up to 6th in the Rolex World Golf rankings. Big things have always been expected for the gracious young man from Ehime and he appears to be on the brink of delivering. No Japanese male player has ever won a Major but Matsuyama has already contended in several and it would come as no surprise if he broke through and made history in 2017. If he were to rise to #1 in the World rankings he would become the first Asian player to assume the mantle of the world’s best golfer.
With all these amazing young players, 2017 is shaping up to be a very exciting year!