In the second round of the Northern Trust, Scottie Scheffler shot a 59 and tournament winner Dustin Johnson carded a 60.
Olympia Fields Country Club won’t be as generous with the low scores.
Ahead of the BMW Championship, the second of three FedEx Cup playoff events, Justin Thomas said Olympia Fields was “an unbelievable test” with its long holes, narrow fairways, thick rough and the firmest greens the Tour players have seen in a while.
When pressed to find a comparison to Olympia Fields, the best course the 2017 FedEx Cup champion could compare it to was a former PGA Championship and U.S. Open site.
“I guess a little bit of a Bethpage (Black) like,” Thomas said. “It’s tough. It’s right in front of you. There’s nothing about it that’s tricked up. It’s just a difficult golf course that you have to go out and execute well. In that aspect, it reminds me of a place like that to where visually it does look a little difficult and it is difficult when you’re playing it, but if you’re able to hit the fairways, if you’re playing well, have control of your golf ball, you can make some birdies and still shoot a good round of however many under par that is.
“But you’re not going to be seeing any 59s and 60s on the same day here.”
Thomas said he played the course once before as a freshman at Alabama, but since then, he’s only played nine holes of the 7,366-yard, par-70 course outside of Chicago. He planned to play the other nine Wednesday after speaking with media.
While playing his first nine on Tuesday, Thomas said he got a feel for how challenging Olympia Fields would be and perhaps a key to surviving.
“I hit a pretty good amount of mid-irons and that’s something I don’t do very often,” he said. “It’s a really, really good tough finishing stretch. Fifteen, even a par-5 is not an easy par-5 by any means. It’s little things like that. But it’s going to be pivotal to hit the fairways to where you’re able to control your ball coming into the green.”
Thomas, the reigning BMW Championship winner, is fresh off his worst finish since missing the cut at the Travelers Championship. The 27-year-old finished the Northern Trust T-49 at 7 under after consecutive 71s in the third and final rounds.
While the finish dropped him to No. 2 on the FedEx Cup points list behind Johnson, the 13-time winner on Tour is still on a steady path to entering the Tour Championship with a lead. Thomas said ahead of the Northern Trust he was “not trying to peak” at the first of four important events within five weeks. He learned about pacing himself last year when he won the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club by three shots over Patrick Cantlay to sit at No. 1 in FedEx Cup points and earn a two-shot lead to start the Tour Championship under the new playoff rules.
While Thomas said the lead didn’t exactly weigh on him, it was undeniably harder to play like he normally would with that lead.
“I’m not surprised that it felt weird because no one has ever been there before,” Thomas said of his lead. “It was very similar to I felt like Q-school when I played. I remember I shot 67 the first round and I was in fifth, and I got home that night and I was like, ‘I’ve got five more rounds to go. I have to maintain good golf for five more rounds. Like I don’t know what to do.’ Usually you have three more rounds, and then I had an entire another four-day tournament and another day to go.”
Thomas finished the Tour Championship T-3 at 13 under.
Regardless of his finish at the Northern Trust, Thomas has some momentum going. Last year, the Tour’s season finale followed Thomas’ only win of the season. This year, his resume and trophy shelf look a little different after winning a season-high three PGA Tour events: the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, Sentry Tournament of Champions and the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges.
Thomas had his most successful year on Tour in 2016-17 when he earned five PGA Tour wins, including his only major, the 2017 PGA Championship. That season, he had 12 top-10 finishes in 25 events.
In the 16 events this season, Thomas as nine top 10s.
Thomas also has a leg up on the competition as the only Tour player who knows what it’s like to handle a lead headed into an event under the new FedEx Cup rules.
When asked what he would do differently with a lead at the Tour Championship this time around, Thomas smirked.
“I mean, not to sound bad,” he said, “but I’m not going to say what I’m going to do differently because I might be in that position next week and I’ll let (everyone else) figure it out themselves.”