Justin Thomas Enters Rocket Mortgage Classic Hoping To Boost Postseason Positioning

DETROIT (AP) — Justin Thomas may have skipped the Rocket Mortgage Classic once again if this was just another usual year in his career.

It hasn’t been.

The 2022 PGA Championship winner, who has 15 PGA Tour titles, has fallen out of the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time in almost six years.

Thomas is No. 66 on the FedEx Cup points list, putting him in jeopardy of failing to finish among the top 70 and earn a spot in the playoffs.

How much of a motviating factor was that for him to compete at the Detroit Golf Club, where the first round beings Thursday.

“Quite a bit, to be honest,” Thomas said. “I was outside the payoffs going into last week. About a month ago, I reached out to my team and I was like I think this could be a good add. And then the next month or so kind of took its place and it worked out that I needed to play here more than I thought.”

After missing the cut in consecutive tournaments at the U.S. Open and the Memorial, Thomas moved inside the top 70 with a ninth-place tie last week at the Travelers Championship in Connecticut. That was his first top-10 finish since March and just his third in 2023.

The 30-year-old Thomas isn’t the only one trying to improve his postseason positioning this week. The tournament’s fifth field includes just five of the world’s top 20 players, including ninth-ranked Max Homa, and some players potentially on the postseason bubble.

Collin Morikawa, who is No. 32 on the FedEx Cup list, Sungjae Im (No. 34) and Hideki Matsuyama (No. 52) are among the notable names hoping to play well and move closer to securing a spot in the playoffs.

Defending champion Tony Finau has six career wins on the PGA Tour — including four over the last year — and for the first time he’s returning to a golf course where he won a tittle.

“I don’t know if you call it nerves or excitement, but it’s new,” he said.

It’s also a new experience for Finau to have a bobblehead, which was given away to fans for free Wednesday during the pro-am. They also got a Polynesian-inspired ham sandwhich named after him with seven ingredients representing the members of his family that will be sold to spectators.

“I’ve never been asked to have a menu item,” said Finau, who is of Tongan and Samoan descent. “For them to do something that special is really cool, definitely something I’ll always remember. I’ve got this bobblehead. I’ve got the menu item. It’s quite something.”

In the time leading up to the Rocket Mortgage Classic, tournament organizers had to overcome some obstacles.

The 11th and 12th greens were destroyed by chemicals poured onto them by vandals in early May. The grounds crew resodded each green with grass from Oakmont Country Club’s sod farm and they look pristine.

On Sunday, storms in the area toppled trees and scattered limbs on the course. About 200 people from the grounds crew and landscaping companies in the area teamed up to clear the debris to avoid any changes to the schedule this week.

“When we were here Monday, it was a little scary,” Homa said. “Trees had fallen down and then by (Tuesday) it looked normal again, so I’m amazed.”

Just to add another variable for the PGA Tour and tournament officials, smoky air from Canada’s wildfires have led to Detroit having the worst air quality in the U.S.

Under the haze, players are expected to shoot low on the flat and short Donald Ross-designed course. Finau set a tournament record with a 26-under 262, winning the second of back-to-back PGA Tour events here last year.

Some players expect the scores to be even better this week due to recent rains making the small greens even more receptive.

“You’re going to have guys firing at pins,” Morikawa said.