Is Justin Thomas the best golfer in the world? He was today. – ESPN
“No reason to answer that,” he said, justifiably perturbed. “I can’t win with the answer to that question.”
He right, of course. That kind of question is a classic trap. If Thomas agrees and doesn’t live up to it on Sunday, it will be used against him forever, the same way Patrick Reed was mocked after saying he was a Top 5 player in the world. If he balks and deflects, it looks like he lacks the steely self-confidence to be truly great. He can’t win. So, in addition to all the other impressive things he did Saturday, I’ll tip my cap to his media savvy. Such maturity is clearly one of the reasons he’s in the final group at the U.S. Open, trailing Brian Harman by just a stroke at 11-under par.
Still, a part of me believes the question is fair — even if Thomas can’t answer it. Thomas isn’t the best player in the world, week in, week out. But when everything is clicking… You can make a good case that Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day or Jordan Spieth are the stronger all-around golfers, and maybe always will be. But Thomas just might have a little Johnny Miller in him, the man whose U.S. Open record he displaced on Saturday.
Miller wasn’t Jack Nicklaus, or even Lee Trevino. His career, ultimately, pales in comparison to theirs. But on the right day, in the right round, Miller could blaze like a comet. He once said he thought he was a better iron player than Tiger Woods, and even if that sounds like blasphemy, Miller could at least make it an argument. Not many guys could even have that argument. Miller couldn’t touch Nicklaus’ or Woods’ consistency, but his best might have been a hair better than their best. He couldn’t conjure it up enough, but when he did, Miller was fearless.
All of which might be Thomas’ calling, as well. And you know who shares that belief? Johnny Miller.
Justin Thomas shot the lowest round to par at a U.S. Open as his 9-under 63 broke a 44-year-old record set by Johnny Miller.
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“Justin Thomas is a lot like I am — he’s a streaky player,” Miller told Golf Channel Saturday night. “When I was in my prime, it was the same way. I could get it really low.”
Thomas’ 63 at Erin Hills wasn’t the outlier Miller’s 63 at Oakmont in 1973 was. In fact, Reed had a chance to shoot a 63, but lipped out a birdie putt on 18 an hour before Thomas finished. Because of the rain that has fallen throughout the week, Erin Hills has been soft — and getable — all week. Still, it takes a special kind of golfer to chase history and not feel overwhelmed. That’s part of why Thomas was able to shoot 59 earlier this year in Hawaii, then back it up by setting the 72-hole scoring record on the PGA Tour. He doesn’t pull back. He doesn’t scare. Even the pink pants he likes to wear suggest a certain fearlessness.
“I had no idea that 9-under was the best ever in an Open,” Thomas said. “So that was pretty cool once I saw my card.”
It felt, for sure, like something special might be brewing early in Thomas’ round after he made one of the tournament’s most unlikely birdies on the 504-yard Par-4 5th hole. Thomas hit a decent approach that somehow hung up in the fringe above the hole, leaving him a seemingly impossible downhill putt. He had to turn his body 90 degrees from the hole and putt sideways through the fringe, then let it trickle down the fault line. It was so precarious, Thomas said later he was just hoping to keep it inside 8 feet.
Instead, improbably, he made it.