Justin Thomas’ climb to No. 2 in the world further boosts Honda Classic’s reputation

Honda Classic champion Justin Thomas almost made it back-to-back victories on the PGA Tour, finishing second to Phil Mickelson Sunday in a playoff for the World Golf Championship event in Mexico.

What does this mean? Well, JT is red hot, for one thing, and he’s earned a break after three top-10 finishes on the PGA Tour in the space of three weeks. Thomas is skipping this week’s Valspar Championship near Tampa, an event that otherwise is loading up on more stars than usual with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth in the field.

Justin Thomas reacts to winning the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida on February 25, 2018. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

In the longer view, the upward trend in Thomas’ game seems to have no end.

Two wins already this season, including October’s CJ Cup in South Korea. Seven wins in the last 33 events. Seven top-10 finishes in the last 13. Second behind Dustin Johnson in the Official World Golf Rankings.

This is looking every bit as dominating as the run that first lifted McIlroy to No. 1 in the world. The year was 2012 and Rory followed up a Honda win with three more Tour victories, including the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island.

McIlroy was 22 when he won that Honda and first climbed to No. 1 in the process.

Thomas, 24, is every bit as ambitious. The way he’s going, he’ll be a threat to win at the Masters, where a tie for 22nd is his previous best. Overall, there’s no reason to think that JT won’t eventually match McIlroy’s running total of four major championships.

To have both of these young men based in Jupiter is a gift to the Honda Classic. Now if we can just get world Dustin, another local, to return to PGA National. Haven’t seen him in the Honda since a missed cut in 2015.

Top-ranked golfers and Palm Beach County’s PGA Tour stop really should go together. Since the Honda moved to PGA National in 2007, three players who at one point topped the world rankings have won the tournament. They are McIlroy, Ernie Els and Adam Scott.

Thomas figures to make it four, either this year or soon thereafter, when he makes it to No. 1 as well.

[Kevin Love opens up on The Players’ Tribune, a Derek Jeter project]

[Jim Kelly astonished a Boca Raton crowd with his cancer story]

[Marlins’ inaugural spring training camp 25 years ago was a blast]

Ernie Els corrects the record; He merely six-putted his opening hole

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sometimes Augusta National Golf Club makes a monkey out of players with its tight lies and slick greens, but Ernie Els would not be high on the list of candidates.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA - APRIL 07: A scoring board on the second hole shows Ernie Els of South Africa as being six over during the first round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 7, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – A scoring board on the second hole shows Ernie Els of South Africa as being six over after one hole in the Masters.(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Twice, in 2000 and 2004, he was the runnerup here. Six times he has finished in the top-10.

Yet there the four-time major champion was Thursday, tapping putts back and forth past the cup until he had used six shots on the green, and all from close range.

The shocking result was the worst score in Masters history on the par-4 opening hole, a big fat 9.

In fact, the Masters committee member scoring the hole had trouble staying up with all those putts. The unofficial information originally radioed in to the scoring center counted seven putts by Els and a total of 10 shots at the hole, which is the number that showed up immediately on the scoreboard and stayed there all afternoon.

Once Els finished his round and signed his scorecard, he corrected the number. It was only six putts. Merely terrible, not toxic.

Either way, the last few putts were careless drags in the direction of the cup without even bothering to take a stance. It’s what the rest of us do when we think a putt should be conceded as good.

Clearly, Ernie wasn’t in the mood to grind it out at that point, though he did manage to settle himself a bit with a couple of pars, a bogey and a birdie on the next four holes. His final score was 80, which represents the kind of major rally that only a seasoned pro could manage.

The rest of us would have been more likely to pick up and walk off the course after that opening fiasco, or at least faked an injury.

There were other scores worse than 80, too, including an 81 by current Tour pro Robert Streb, an 82 by Ian Woosnam, one of the Masters’ creaky returning champions, and an 83 by amateur Paul Chaplet.

Here is the list of worst scores ever recorded on each hole at Augusta National.

No. 1 – 9, Ernie Els, 2016

No. 2 – 10, David Duval 2006 most recently

No. 3 – 8, Douglas Clarke, 1980

No. 4 – 8, Henrik Stenson, 2011

No. 5 – 8, Jerry Barber 1964 most recently

No. 6 – 7, Arnold Palmer 1997 most recently

No. 7 – 8, Richard Von Tacky 1981 most recently

No. 8 – 12, Frank Walsh, 1935

No. 9 – 8, Luke Donald 2014 most recently

No. 10 – 9, Danny Lee, 2009

No. 11 – 9, Charles Howell III 2006 most recently

No. 12 – 13, Tom Weiskopf, 1980

No. 13 – 13, Tommy Nakajima, 1978

No. 14 – 8, Nick Price, 1993

No. 15 – 11, Ignacio Garrido 1998 most recently

No. 16 – 11, Herman Barron, 1950

No. 17 – 7, Fred Couples and Ted Potter 2013 most recently

No. 18 – 8, Henrik Stenson 2012 most recently

Add it all up and it’s 167, which is what I would shoot out here on a good day.

You’ll notice that Henrik Stenson shows up twice on this list of all-time worst single-hole performances. He also has five top-25 Masters finishes and opened his Thursday round with a front-nine 35.

Sometimes it’s all or nothing at Augusta National, but usually the high scores come from true disasters in the lakes or the woods. For Els to run up so many strokes on one green is truly extraordinary.

[Tom Watson and chest hair and other manly topics at Masters]

[Though he’s not playing, Tiger’s still a hot topic with Masters contenders]

[Dolphins got A.J. Duhe with 13th overall pick and they’re feeling lucky again]