World Golf Championship-FedEx St Jude Invitational - Final Round
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Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are past PGA Champions who won a World Golf Championship the previous week.

If, as the bard says, what’s past is prologue, Justin Thomas likely rolled into TPC Harding Park on Monday feeling as if he’s going back to the future. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – both multiple winners of the PGA Championship – used the World Golf Championship as an overture to the Wanamaker Trophy. Thomas looks to do the same.

The new No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, thanks to his victory Sunday in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, is the last person not named Brooks Koepka to win the PGA, taking the title in 2017. And the come-from-behind victory in Memphis, his third of the virus-interrupted PGA Tour season, seems to make him the man to beat this week.

Woods and McIlroy give Thomas every reason to believe that coming into the PGA Championship off a victory in a WGC event is a good thing.

When McIlroy won the PGA at Valhalla in 2014 – giving him a matched set with his 2012 PGA title – it came the week after he won the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. That victory was Rory’s first start after winning the Open at Royal Liverpool, giving him an impressive Open-WGC-PGA triple.

Woods used victory at the WGC-Bridgestone to springboard to the 2007 PGA title at Southern Hills. Tiger has also aced his exit interviews at the PGA, winning the WGC-Bridgestone a week after taking the Wanamaker Trophy in 2006. He also won the 1999 WGC-NEC Invitational two weeks after winning the PGA at Medinah and won the NEC again in 2000 one week after claiming the PGA at Valhalla.

The victory by the 27-year-old Thomas at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational was his 13th on the PGA Tour. Only Woods and Jack Nicklaus – who shares the record for most PGA Championship titles with Walter Hagen at five – got to 13 wins at a younger age.

And the way Thomas won in Memphis should send him into San Francisco on a high. Not only did he come from four back in the final round, but Thomas held off a talented pack by three strokes that included Daniel Berger, Tom Lewis, and past PGA champions Phil Mickelson and Koepka.

Thomas was also buoyed by the fact his Sunday rally came just three weeks after squandering a three-stroke lead in the Workday Charity Open at Muirfield Village, where he lost in a playoff to Colin Morikawa.

When McIlroy was asked before the 2014 PGA Championship if winning the week before at the WGC-Bridgestone would help, he did not hesitate with his answer.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “The PGA Championship has probably been my best major. It's been a tournament that I've really enjoyed and a tournament that I've had some success at. So hopefully I can continue that trend this week.”

That’s exactly what he did, winning by one stroke over Mickelson and two better than Henrik Stenson and Rickie Fowler.

McIlroy said the key to winning back-to-back weeks is taking it slowly the second week. When he got to Valhalla in 2014, Rory rested on Monday to recharge his batteries.

“Emotionally and mentally, it's more fatiguing after you win tournaments than it is physically,” McIlroy said. “So just to give your brain and give your head a day just to sort of rest is a good thing and get back into it.”

Woods, who normally takes the week off before a major, liked to play the WGC event in Akron, Ohio, right before the PGA because he’s always had success at Firestone Country Club.

“Well, I just think that winning gives you confidence no matter what,” Woods said about coming into the 2007 PGA off a WGC victory. “It felt good to win. Hopefully I can carry what happened last week into this week.”

He did, winning at Southern Hills in Tulsa by two strokes over Woody Austin and three clear of Ernie Els.

On Sunday, Thomas went out in 31 to get back into the mix in Memphis then took control of the tournament on the back nine, closing with a 34.

“It was a hard-fought day, but it meant a lot I just felt like [because of] how we did it, being four behind to start the day," Thomas said. “I definitely learned a lot from Workday, just how I handled that lead and that situation the last couple holes. I did obviously a very poor job, but because of that I felt a lot more calm and stayed more in the moment today.”

Thomas hopes that calm will help him hold the No. 1 spot in the world ranking longer than the four weeks he was on top in 2018.

“I feel like I’m a better player and I feel like I’m more complete of a golfer now than I was then,” Thomas said.

Thomas was helped in Memphis by Jim (Bones) Mackay, the NBC-Golf Channel commentator who caddied for Phil Mickelson for 25 years. With his usual caddie – Jimmy Johnson – out sick with dizzy spells, Thomas hired Mackay for Memphis and the PGA Championship.

The partnership worked well at TPC Southwind. Now they’ll see if the magic carries over to TPC Harding Park. Mackay won three WGC events and a PGA with Mickelson – but never in the same year. That’s the feat Thomas looks to complete this week.

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