JEJU ISLAND: Inaugu­ral champion Justin Thomas staved off a challenge by Danny Lee to claim his second CJ Cup title in three years with a two-shot victory over the Korean-born New Zealander at Nine Bridges on Sunday.

The overnight leaders were level for the first 13 holes before Thomas surged ahead with a birdie on the 14th, while Lee bogeyed the 15th and 16th to effectively drop out of contention.

Thomas eventually signed off with a five-under 67 for a winning total of 20-under 268, while Lee carded 69 to finish in second place to the American.

“It was a very, very tough day,” Thomas said after his 11th PGA Tour victory. “Danny made it extremely difficult. He really made a lot of putts, a lot of unbelievable up and downs to kind of keep me from getting all the momentum. I really, really played solidly today.

“My dad turned 60 last week, so maybe it’s a little 60th birthday gift to him.”

Thomas has now equalled Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy by winning 11 US PGA Tour titles before his 27th birthday.

Only Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus had won more by that age, and four of Thomas’s wins have come from just nine PGA Tour starts Asia — he won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in 2015 and 2016.

It has been a difficult week for Lee whose second child, originally due closer to Christmas, was born prematurely last Sunday and is in an incubator.

“Before I tee off my very first tee shot on Thursday, if someone’s going to give me solo second, I would take it in a heartbeat. It is a good week, but also very disappointing,” he said.

“I really wanted to win the CJ CUP. It means a lot to me to win it in front of the Korean fans and all my Korean family, but it is what it is. I gave my best out there today and solo second was the best I could do.”

Hideki Matsuyama (65), Gary Woodland (66) and Cameron Smith (69) shared third place at 15-under.

A further three shots behind was Spieth, who returned 71, while fellow American Phil Mickelson finished with 68 to be joined by Australian Jason Day (71) at seven-under.

The PGA Tour’s second of three weeks in Asia continues next week at the Zozo Championship in Japan which will feature Tiger Woods and ending with the World Golf Championship in Shanghai.

Published in Dawn, October 21st, 2019