ERIN, Wisconsin — Justin Thomas realized he could not even hope to have another day like the one he enjoyed on Saturday when he set a U.S. Open record and was a national sensation. He just hoped that he would have enough to hang in there and become a major champion.
Instead, when he dug as deep into his psyche and his trove of skills, he came up empty. “I just didn’t have it today,” he said after shooting a 3-over-par 75 to finish at 8 under for the Open, tied for ninth and eight shots behind the winner, his friend Brooks Koepka.
“I was excited for today. I felt very comfortable. It was obviously playing a lot more difficult, so I gave it all I had,” he said.
Thomas put Erin Hills and this year’s Open on the map Saturday when he made eagle on the par-5 18th hole to shoot 63, becoming the first ever to go 9 under for a round in the U.S. Open. It was exhilarating for him, but in the midst of the celebration and attention he did point out that his work was not nearly complete. He led by two shots when he finished the third round, but had fallen behind by one by the time the final round began.
The final round never really did begin for the 24-year-old from Goshen, Kentucky. He made bogey on the second hole, then another on the fourth and one more on the fifth. He did not get a birdie until No. 10 and never got another one.
“Anytime you don’t win, it stings. But if 12 or 13 under would have won, it would have hurt really bad. But knowing that I would have had to shoot 5 under just to get in the playoff . . . that’s really, really good golfing out here today.”
With that remark, he was referring to Koepka, with whom he began the day tied for second. Thomas was in the final group with Brian Harman, the third-round leader, and they did not tee off until nearly 3 p.m. local time. That required a lot of sitting around, waiting and thinking.
“But I would like to think that’s not why I played how I did today,” Thomas said. “I just didn’t play well.”
He was surprised that his par putt on No. 2 didn’t go in and stunned that his ball came up 3 inches from the hole on No. 4 before rolling back more than 4 feet. Episodes like those sure did not happen the day before.
“Well,” Thomas said, “it wasn’t going to be like yesterday, regardless.”