Justin Thomas, the defending champion of this week’s CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges in South Korea, got off to a rough start during the first of his three title defenses this season.
JT was only able to offset one of his two bogeys on his front nine with a birdie to go out in 1-over par, while a second birdie on the day was undone by a double bogey four-putt on the par-4 fourth hole — his 13th hole of the day — pushing him back to 2-over par.
Coming to the par-5 ninth hole, Thomas piped a drive, giving him a look at the green in two. The No. 4-ranked player in the world slung a big hook around the dogleg and marched up the fairway as his ball rolled onto the green and used the slope to nearly drop in for an unlikely 2 that would have jettisoned him up the leaderboard some 36 spots.
The unlikely albatross didn’t fall, and neither did the short eagle look, forcing a dejected Thomas to settle for a birdie and a 1-over par round of 73.
Thomas only hit four of 14 fairways and currently ranks T70th in the field in putts per green in regulation with 2.071, which tells the story after he hit 14 of 18 greens. However, he enters Friday’s second round just five shots back of first-round leader Chez Reavie.
Among the other notables in the field, Brooks Koepka fired a 1-under par 71, giving him the inside track on the two men in the field vying to reach the No. 1 ranking.
Koepka needs to win this week or solo second-place finish — assuming it’s not Thomas who wins — in order to ascend to No. 1 for the first time. Thomas needs a victory to reclaim his spot atop the world rankings.