JEJU • Justin Thomas won the CJ Cup yesterday for the second time in three years, but it took until the closing stretch to see off the dogged challenge of Danny Lee on South Korea's Jeju Island.
The pair, who shared a three-shot overnight lead on 15-under, were locked together until the short par-four 14th.
"I felt like 14 was a pretty big change in momentum," said Thomas, who got up and down from 65 yards for a crucial birdie, and from that moment was never headed as he finished with a round of five-under 67 and a 20-under total of 268.
"Danny made it extremely difficult. I kept trying to hit fairways and greens and give myself a lot of birdie chances, and he just kept getting up and down from everywhere," said world No. 5 Thomas, who pocketed US$1.755 million (S$2.39 million) for the win.
Seoul-born New Zealander Lee, who carded a 69, was cheered on by huge galleries hoping for a first Korean-born winner of the PGA Tour event. The world No. 162 eventually blinked first under relentless pressure with bogeys at 15 and 16.
There was a three-way tie for third on 273 between Japan's Hideki Matsuyama (65), US Open champion Gary Woodland (66) and Australia's Cameron Smith, who finished with an eagle for a 69.
But none of them remotely threatened the leading pair, who fought out a compelling head-to-head shoot-out in perfect conditions under clear blue skies.
Birthday of Justin Thomas' father, Mike, last week that the American golfer dedicates his latest win to.
American Thomas, 26, from Louisville, Kentucky, has been watched all week by his parents, who flew over to support him.
"My dad turned 60 last week, so maybe it's a little 60th birthday gift to him. I'm glad he didn't come over here to watch me not play very well," said Thomas, who won the inaugural 2017 CJ Cup at the spectacular Nine Bridges club, set on the slopes of South Korea's tallest mountain, Hallasan.
Thomas has now equalled Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy by winning 11 PGA Tour titles before his 27th birthday. Only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus had won more by that age, and four of Thomas' wins have come from just nine PGA Tour starts in Asia - he won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in 2015 and 2016.
Lee said: "Before I teed off my very first tee shot on Thursday, if someone's going to give me solo second, I would take it in a heartbeat."
PGA Tour's three-event Asian swing now moves to Japan, where Tiger Woods will compete in the Zozo Championship this week before the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai from Oct 31.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS