KAPALUA (Hawaii) • Justin Thomas began the new year mildly disappointed by not having won more than he already has on the PGA Tour. That is not to suggest he thought it was easy. Sunday at Kapalua was proof of that.
He won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in a three-man play-off over Presidents Cup teammates Patrick Reed and Xander Schauffele for his third victory in his last six starts on the Tour, and the 12th of his career.
The American trio finished with 14-under par totals of 278.
Thomas, 26, has more wins than any active players younger than 30. That took time to digest, mainly because of how he got to No. 12.
He birdied six out of eight holes to turn a two-shot deficit into a two-shot lead with three holes to play. "Through 15 holes, it was one of the best rounds I had played," he said.
But he fell into a play-off by hitting a toe-hook off the tee at the par-five 18th, followed by a three-wood that landed in vegetation so thick that a nine-member search party could not find it. He settled for a bogey to finish with a four-under 69.
Schauffele became just the fourth player in the final round to reach the 18th green in two shots, a three-wood that left him a 35-foot eagle attempt.
He could only three-putt for par, missing a seven-foot putt for the win as he carded a 70.
That gave life to Thomas and Reed, who earlier made a 20-foot birdie putt for a 66 - matching the best score of the tournament.
It was the first three-man play-off since the tournament moved to Kapalua in 1999.
"I got very lucky to even have that opportunity," Thomas said.
Schauffele was eliminated with a three-putt par from 100 feet on the 18th in the play-off.
Thomas had to watch Reed have two putts at the win, a 30-foot eagle putt on the first extra hole and a 12-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole. But he missed them both, and the former finished him off on the final hole before darkness.
"That's what happens when you win," Thomas said. "Obviously, you have to play well and make some putts and hit some shots.
"But at the end of the day, you need stuff to go your way. And it definitely did today. And it feels great."
It was more crushing for Schauffele than for Reed, even though the latter had the last chance to win.
"I should have won the tournament," he said, pausing to consider how wild the final hour really was.
"JT was right there. But with the circumstances, I should have closed it out. I did everything I was supposed to until the last moment."
Thomas will carry momentum to the Sony Open in Honolulu, which starts on Thursday, and perhaps the rest of the year.
The world No. 4's record since June bears noting - he has not finished worse than a tie for 17th in his last 11 tournaments.
"It's not an accomplishment getting to 12 (titles)," he said. "It's an accomplishment winning today. But I'll have fun with my family and celebrate it tonight. And next week, we try to get 13."