GREENSBORO, N.C. — Justin Thomas’ pursuit of a spot in the 2023 FedEx Cup Playoffs came down to the wire at the Wyndham Championship on Sunday. He was out, he was in, he was out again and then he nearly holed a walk-off birdie pitch but it wasn’t to be. Ben Griffin, who missed the cut this week hung on to the final spot and Thomas was the odd man out at No. 71, just nine points behind.
“I made the best out of every situation that I had. And just, I mean, fought as hard as I possibly could,” Thomas said after his round but before he learned he was officially eliminated. “That’s kind of what I’ve done my whole life, my whole career and I didn’t want to stop here.”
Thomas, who entered the week at No. 79 in the season-long points standings, shot a final-round 2-under 68 at Sedgefield Country Club to finish tied for 12th.
Thomas had qualified for the playoffs, which begin next week with the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis, in each of his first eight seasons, winning the title in 2017, and finishing in the top 10 in the final standings in five of the last six seasons.
With only the top 70 advancing to the playoffs instead of 125 as in previous seasons, Thomas did everything he could to extend his season, including adding the 3M Open to his schedule last week and making his first appearance in the Wyndham since 2016. While Thomas ended up 71st, he said he gained a lot from the experience.
“I feel like I’m back to me again,” he said. “Personally, I think this was harder today than trying to win a golf tournament.”
Thomas bounced back from an opening-round 70, which dropped him to 81st in the standings, with rounds of 65-66 and entered the final round projected to finish No. 72. On Sunday, he drained a 39-foot birdie putt at No. 6, but then strung together eight straight pars, including missing an 8-foot birdie putt at 14.
Just when his chances were starting to look bleak, he took advantage of the par-5 15th, splitting the fairway with a 332-yard bomb. Walking to his ball, he turned to his caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay and said, “It sure is nice to play the hole for the first time all week from the fairway.”
Thomas made the most of it, drilling a 7-iron from 214 yards to 15 feet and his downhill eagle putt trickled in. Thomas clenched his right fist and pointed to the sky. It lifted him to No. 70 in the standings. But one hole later, he made a bogey that would prove costly. The wind switched directions on him when he hit 9-iron at the par-3 16th and his ball ballooned in the air. He hit a poor chip from short of the green and missed a 30-foot par putt. At first, it didn’t hurt his position; that is until Adam Svensson made a birdie at 15 to vault ahead of Thomas in the tournament and steal some valuable points.
Thomas scrambled for par at 17 but tugged his tee shot at 18 left and into the trees. From a lie in pine straw and with a tree forcing him to hit a low hooking 8-iron, he contorted his body in a whirlybird motion reminiscent of Tiger Woods escaping trouble over the years. It was a remarkable shot, stopping 34 feet short of the flag.
Thomas weighed his options: using his 56-degree wedge he determined to be the conservative play to make an up-and-down par but he elected to trap a 60-degree to try to make it, knowing that a birdie would lock up a playoff spot. His ball bounced three times and kissed the flagstick, coming to rest a foot from the hole. He put his hands on his head and fell to the ground in disbelief, knowing that he was that close to punching his ticket to Memphis in dramatic fashion.
“It would have been a lot more incredible if it would have gone in,” Thomas said.
Shortly after Thomas tapped in, play was suspended for more than 2 hours and so started Thomas’ waiting game to see if he could get any help. He recalled that in 2015 he was told his spot was secure to earn a berth in the Tour Championship but then players still on the course made birdies and he was bumped to No. 32. He knew he was going to need help, which he didn’t get, but he was proud of the fact that he’d done his part.
“I played the best I could and I fought as hard as I could and shot the lowest I possibly could,” he said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Justin Thomas misses FedEx Cup after amazing Wyndham Championship shot