(Reuters) – Justin Thomas faltered in the final round at the BMW Championship on Sunday but held on for an ultimately comfortable three-stroke victory at Medinah in suburban Chicago.
He carded a closing 68 to finish on a 25-under-par total of 263, while fellow American Patrick Cantlay shot 65 for second place on 22-under.
Thomas started the day with a six-shot advantage but when he bogeyed the 10th hole the lead over Cantlay was down to two.
But Thomas steadied with clutch play over the next three holes, twice holing putts of around 12 feet to re-establish his authority.
“Patrick made that very interesting,” a relieved Thomas said in a greenside interview after greeting his parents and girlfriend.
“I hit the ball so bad to start the day. I made it hard on myself because usually I’m pretty good at hitting fairways and greens and I couldn’t hit a fairway … but I stayed patient and that birdie on 11 was huge.”
The victory was the 10th of his PGA Tour career but the first this year in what has been an injury-interrupted season for Thomas after he hurt his wrist in March. That led to him taking six weeks off to rest but the hiatus means he will savour his latest triumph.
“I’d forgotten how hard it was to win,” he said. “This game is so hard, you don’t know how often things like this are going to happen.
“I was really nervous today. It’s hard to play with the lead. I was enjoying it, though.”
The result means Thomas will enjoy pole position as the number one seed at next week’s season-ending Tour Championship in Atlanta.
The top 30 players on the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup points list qualified for the Tour Championship, where the winner will collect an extraordinary $15 million.
For the first time, the event will use a staggered start, with Thomas starting at 10 under par, while the 30th qualifier will begin at even par.
There will be no defending champion, as Tiger Woods did not qualify after finishing equal 37th on Sunday.
(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; editing by Tony Lawrence)