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Posted April 6, 2021, 6:44 pm
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Justin Thomas hones his mental game in hopes of winning a green jacket

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    Justin Thomas tees off on no. 14 during Tuesday's Masters practice round. [ANDREW DAVIS TUCKER/THE AUGUSTA CHRONICLE]

Justin Thomas in a green jacket on a Sunday afternoon in April seems inevitable; if not this year, then at some point before his Masters career is done.

This is Thomas’ fifth consecutive Masters. He’s improved his score and position each year, breaking par each round last fall, playing in the penultimate pairing on Sunday and finishing fourth.

After struggling early in 2021, dealing with the death of his grandfather and the response to a homophobic slur he muttered that was heard on TV audio, Thomas shot 132 on the weekend at TPC Sawgrass to win the Players Championship last month.

“I was getting close, but it wasn't exactly where I wanted, and all of a sudden just kind of clicked and I started really, really driving it well,” Thomas said. “And then once I was driving it well, it kind of freed up the rest of my game and I was putting it well.”

That performance produced a one-shot margin over Lee Westwood and his 14th PGA Tour victory. It also boosted his confidence entering the Masters.

Photos: Thomas' Tuesday practice round

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“I know that I can play this place well. I mean, very similar to Sawgrass. I love this golf course,” Thomas said. “I feel like it's a place that I'm going to win at some point, at least I hope, and I feel like I can do it multiple times. But at the end of the day there's only one person that wins every week, and I just need to keep working until -- if and when it's my time.”

Thomas, the 2017 PGA Championship winner, held a share of a post-round lead in each of the last two majors. In last fall’s Masters, he was in the hunt through the first nine on Saturday but sputtered around Amen Corner, squandering a realistic chance to catch Dustin Johnson. 

The soft conditions in the fall minimized the value of local knowledge and precise approach shots. With a much faster, firmer golf course this week, Thomas should thrive. He’s one of the game’s elite iron players, ranking top six in greens in regulation each of the last four Masters, and also in golf’s short-game upper tier. 

Those skills, combined with a love of the course, fuel his confidence. But he has to be careful not to become overwhelmed by the expectations. He’s learned how to prepare physically and mentally for the rigors of 72 holes at Augusta National, although this week he’s missed his regular practice rounds with Tiger Woods, the five-time champion.

Justin  Thomas Masters Record

Year Place Score 1 2 3 4 Earnings
2020 4 -12 66 69 71 70 $552,000
2019 T12 -8 73 68 69 70 $225,400
2018 T17 -4 74 67 70 73 $170,500
2017 T22 +2 73 76 71 70 $105,600
2016 T39 +10 76 73 78 71 $46,000

“You feel like you're playing good, whatever,” Thomas said. “But at the end of the day, once I tee it up on Thursday, it's game time and anything you thought, have thought, will think, like it's out the window.  You can only control where you are at that moment and hit that next shot exactly where you want to hit it, and if it isn't, you go and you hit that one from where it is next.” 

Once he was eliminated from advancing out of his group in the WGC Match Play two weeks ago, Thomas used his final match against Louis Oosthuizen to work on shots that could be useful at the Masters. He’s more comfortable with the tee shots on No. 10 and No. 13 than in the past and understands the importance of being fit mentally and not necessarily having to play his best golf to be in contention on Sunday. 

“I really make sure to be rested and in a good frame of mind and control it as much as I can control it,” he said. “And that way I feel like, if I don't have my best stuff, I can get it around. Because that's been some of my best and probably some of my golf I've been most proud of is when I've been able to get it around and not have my best stuff and find myself in contention and winning golf tournaments, instead of just playing lights-out kind of thing.”