Justin Thomas has come a long way in 18 months. All the way to No. 1 in the world. He had one PGA Tour victory and was No. 35 in the world in October 2016 when he began a steady rise through a deep field of stars. Thomas won seven times in a span of 32 tournaments around the world, including his first major. The final step to the top of the ranking was an illustration of how he got there. He made the cut on the number at The Players Championship, had a 68-66 weekend and tied for 11th.
That was enough to end Dustin Johnson’s 64-week atop the world ranking.
“I’m very proud to have gotten there, but it means more to me how long I can hold it,” Thomas said in a text message while flying home to South Florida for a two-week break. “Have to continue to work hard with how well so many guys are playing.”
Thomas became the 21st player and seventh American to reach No. 1 since the world ranking began in 1986. He was helped by five victories last year, including the PGA Championship and a FedEx Cup playoff event.
But this season alone, his worst finish in ranking events is a tie for 22nd.
Thomas was projected to get to No. 1 after this week and could have done it by missing the cut if Johnson had finished out of the top 11.
“I would much rather shoot 10 under on the weekend and earn it as opposed to missing the cut and have DJ not play well,” Thomas said. “DJ’s a hell of a player. If he’s not playing well, he’s kind of like me this week. He’s hanging around, he’ll back-door a top 10 or just play his way into a good finish. And that’s why he’s been No. 1 in the world for a year now.”
Johnson still had a say in the matter. A two-way tie for fifth would have been enough, meaning Johnson needed a 33 on the back nine at the TPC Sawgrass. But he three-putted the 13th, chopped up the 14th for a double bogey, and that was that.
Johnson’s stay at No. 1 was the longest by any players since Tiger Woods was at the top for five years ending in 2010. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Jason Day didn’t last more than two weeks at No. 1 the first time they got there.
“I want to have it for a really long time because that means I’m playing better than everybody else for an extended period of time,” Thomas said when he finished his final round. “Get hot for a year, couple years and then fall off the map, that doesn’t really mean a whole lot to me.”
Thomas plans to return at the Memorial. He is not assured of being No. 1 when he returns because Spieth, who went up one spot to No. 3, is playing the next two weeks.