Thomas hangs on to win at Kapalua

Justin Thomas let most of a five-stroke lead slip away and then responded like the champion he has become.

The 23-year-old Thomas, made birdies on the last two holes to post a 4-under-par 69 and beat Hideki Matsuyama of Japan by three strokes in the SBS Tournament of Champions on the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort in Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii.

Thomas, who opened with three straight 67s, wound up at 22-under 270 and won for the second time in three starts after claiming the CIMB Classic for the second straight year in November. Matsuyama finished second in that one, too.

“It means I’m coming back here next year, and I’m excited about that,” Thomas said of capturing the winners-only tournament. “The way I played all week shows where my game is.

“I had some problems coming in on the back nine, chunked-hooked one on No. 15 after hitting it right there for three straight days. I made a mess of that hole, but I hit a lot of great shots on 17 and 18.

” … I was able to pull it out.”

Matsuyama, who has won four of his last six starts and finished second to Thomas in the other two, holed a brilliant 59-yard shot from the rough for an eagle-2 on the 14th hole to cut into the lead on his way to a 70.

Then Thomas hooked his approach shot into the jungle on the 15th hole en route to a double-bogey 7 and the five-shot lead suddenly was down to one.

However, after both players made par at No. 16, Thomas hit a series of fine shots on the last 17th and 18th holes and made two birdie putts from about three feet.

Defending champion Jordan Spieth capped up up-and-down week with a bogey-free 65 to finish six strokes back in a tie for third with Pat Perez of San Diego, who totaled 67, and Ryan Moore, who had a 71.

Spieth led the field with 26 birdies in 72 holes and also had an eagle, but threw in two double bogeys and a triple bogey.

Dustin Johnson, the reigning U.S. Open champion, shot 69 to wind up in a tie for sixth with Patrick Reed, who carded a 70, and Brendan Steele of Idyllwild and UC Riverside, who came in at 71.

Top-ranked Jason Day of Australia, playing for the first time since September because of a back injury, finished with a 70 and was nine shots behind in a tie for 12th.

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