Justin Thomas, back against the wall, tries to save his season and his playoff hopes

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It’s not often a two-time major winner and former world No. 1 is feeling anything close to pressure at this point in the golf calendar, but then it’s not often a two-time major winner in the theoretical prime of his career is facing the prospect of missing out on both the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup.

Justin Thomas enters this week’s Wyndham Championship with a singular goal: get a suddenly wayward career back on track, pronto.

Since the PGA Championship, his results have run: Cut, Cut, T9, Cut, T60, Cut, Cut. Thomas has fallen in the world rankings from No. 7 earlier this year all the way down to No. 26 now. He’s in real danger of missing out on both the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Ryder Cup, two events he should be Sharpied into for the next decade.

“There’s just guys that have played better than me this season, whether they’re ranked first in the world or 101st in the world,” he said Tuesday. “But now I have an opportunity to play well this week, get into the playoffs and to go to three courses that I love.”

The FedEx Cup playoffs, which encompass those three courses, are the immediate concern for Thomas. He’s never missed the playoffs since his rookie year in 2015. He’s reached the season-ending Tour Championship the last seven years, and won the entire FedEx Cup in 2017. Now, he finds himself scrambling just to get in the door.

“In the past, I [could] just be able to rely on a good first event or two in the playoffs,” he said prior to last week’s 3M Open, “but the way it is now, you have to play some good golf to be in the playoffs and I haven’t exactly done that so far.” He would go on to miss the cut in that tournament, and now his back is truly against the wall.

Thomas ranks 79th in the current FedEx Cup standings, with the top 70 eligible to play in the first-round tournament, the FedEx St. Jude Championship in Memphis next week. While the numbers defining the rankings are as slippery and complex as an election night electoral map, Thomas likely needs at least a top-15 finish at the Wyndham to guarantee a slot in the first round.

Justin Thomas gets in some practice ahead of the Wyndham Championship. (Logan Whitton/Getty Images)

Justin Thomas gets in some practice ahead of the Wyndham Championship. (Logan Whitton/Getty Images)

While he made his Tour debut at the Wyndham as a 16-year-old on a sponsor’s exemption, he doesn’t have a strong record of professional success, mainly because he hasn’t played the tournament — hasn’t needed to play the tournament — very often. He finished 56th in 2015, missed the cut in 2016, and hasn’t played the Wyndham since, until this year.

“I feel like I’m going to play well this week,” Thomas said Tuesday. “I’ve also felt like I was going to play well at the U.S. Open and I finished what I felt was about last place. [He finished +14, six strokes ahead of last, and missed the cut.] That’s also part of golf, you just don’t know what you’re going to get.”

Further down the road looms the Ryder Cup, an event where Thomas excels, both on the course — he’s 6-2-1 in his two appearances — and in the locker room, where he’s a fiery presence on a team largely comprised of chill Americans. But if he were to miss the playoffs, could captain Zach Johnson justify taking him?

“I want to make the Ryder Cup more than anything. I’m probably honestly trying too hard to do it,” he said last month at the Open Championship. “I’ve been trying to make it easy on Zach and get in the top six (in Ryder Cup rankings, which would be an automatic selection), but I seem to not want to do that with my golf.”

Thomas’ career highlight might just be his victory at the 2021 PGA Championship, a win that only came about because of a series of freak events culminating in one of the wildest, most unexpected major wins in recent memory. So he knows a thing or two about fighting right to the finish, a skill he’ll need to employ until his season ends, whenever that may be.

“I have a chance to have one of the craziest endings to a PGA Tour season,” he said, “and I’m going to try to do that.”

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