Justin Thomas has warned his pursuers that he will not be nearly as easy to overhaul as world No 1 as he was two years ago.
The 27-year-old American reclaimed the mantle with a three-shot win at the WGC-FedEx St Jude Classic in Memphis on Sunday night and established himself as the favourite for this week’s USPGA Championship, the season’s first major.
His rise saw Spain’s Jon Rahm displaced after just a two-week reign, but Thomas knows how it feels to rule for a short period. “I want to stay for a long time here [at No 1],” Thomas said. “Well, anything longer than the weeks that I had last time, anyway. In truth, I feel like I’m a better player and feel like I’m a more complete golfer than I was then.
“I felt [in Memphis] like I could win by three with extremely poor wedge play throughout the week. And I didn’t really hit anything too close, I just managed my game really well. We’ll just build on that and get ready for the PGA to hope to start something.”
Brooks Koepka was within one of Thomas with a hole to play, but fell back with a double-bogey to join a group including England’s Tom Lewis.
Nevertheless, with history on the line at Harding Park, San Francisco – where Koepka will attempt to become the first to win three successive strokeplay Wanamaker Trophies – the 30-year-old sounds exceptionally confident.
“This is where we wanted to be, peaking for the PGA,” Koepka said. “I feel like my game’s right there, everything’s solid. Once you lose, doesn’t matter if it was by one or 10. So I’m pleased with it and moving in the right direction.”
Lewis moves up to 46th in the world, his best ranking. The 29-year-old, who made major history at the 2011 Open by shooting a 65, a record for an amateur, is understandably also brimming with self-belief.
“I feel comfortable, my swing feels free, the putting’s getting better, it’s getting freer,” Lewis said. “The simpler I keep it, the better I perform and that’s just what I’ve got to do in the USPGA.”
Meanwhile, John Daly became the 13th player to withdraw from the field. The 1991 champion was so determined to tee it up 12 months ago that he caused a stir by using a buggy under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But the 54-year-old followed the likes of Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington and Eddie Pepperell in putting his health first. “People keep asking why I WD from PGA?” Daly posted on social media. “California now #1 in cases/deaths, I had knee surgery, I’m a diabetic & I don’t feel comfortable flying…”