Justin Thomas is a great champion when he least expects it.
Thomas set a PGA championship record on Sunday when he recovered from a seven-shot deficit in Southern Hills and then saved his most exquisite shot for a three-hole playoff to defeat Will Zatoris.
He finished with a 3-under-67, matching the low score of a final lap complicated more by nerves than wind. He took control in the playoffs with a 3-wood at 35 feet on the 301-yard 17th hole for a two-putt birdie.
He tapped for par and stood tall with a smile that was a mixture of joy and disbelief.
“I was asked earlier in the week what lead is safe and I said, ‘No lead,'” Thomas said. “I can’t believe I found myself in a playoff.”
Thomas needed a lot of help and Mito Pereira provided it in a tragic finish. The 27-year-old Chilean, who is only playing in his second major, took a one-shot lead to the final hole, driving into a creek to double bogey.
It was the first time since Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot at the 2006 US Open that a player lost a one-shot lead in the last hole to lose a major.
Zlatoris looked like he’d missed his chances for a first major – and first PGA Tour win – as he made three putts from just under 20 feet on the 16th hole. But he responded with a birdie from the bunker on the 17th and pocketed an 8-foot par putt for a 71 on the 18th.
He joined Thomas at 5-under 275 and they played on as Pereira faltered.
Thomas, who was 14 months since his last win at The Players Championship last year, has now had a PGA Tour win in each of his last eight years and moves up to No. 5 in the world.
John Mahaffey at the 1978 PGA Championship in Oakmont was the other player to finish seven shots down on the final day. He also won in a playoff over Tom Watson and Jerry Pate.
Thomas was still seven strokes behind when he put on his remarkable run, a mix of making important birdies and avoiding errors. It started with a 65-foot birdie putt from just short of the green to a back pin on a par-3 11. He approached the next hole with an 18-foot birdie.
He lurked while the leading pack drained oil behind him.
Zlatoris and Cameron Young each caught Pereira very briefly. Everyone had problems in the rough and in the sand. Thomas nearly potted a long bunker shot on the 16th, birdied out a left bunker on the achievable 17th, and ended up landing a 10-foot birdie putt that he felt he needed.
He missed and got a reprieve.
Pereira was on the verge of becoming Chile’s first major champion and giving South America a career grand slam.
He never lost the lead after five bogeys, delivering clutch par saves from the bunker to the left of the 9th green and well past the 10th green. None was taller than his 12-foot putt on the 16th to stay a shot ahead.
Everything was undone in one fell swoop.
His sawed-off driver shot, so effective on the previous hole, peeled right and into the creek on the right side of the 18th fairway. After a penalty drop, his approach to the hill started with his left and never cut back, landing in the rough. His chip rolled off the back edge of the green.
His double bogey gave him a 75, an unfortunate end to such a promising week.
“On Monday I just wanted to do the editing. I wanted to win on Sunday,” said Pereira. “I’m taking this to study for the future.”
Young, whose father is a longtime PGA pro, will also look back on missed opportunities. Playing with Zalatoris, a former Wake Forest roommate, Young was in the mix all day and was briefly on top. His hopes ended when he found a bunker to the right of the green in 16th place, blasted weakly to 30 feet and made three putts for a double bogey. He closed with a 71.
Matt Fitzpatrick of England, who played with Pereira in the last group, also stayed within reach, two strokes behind, until his sloppy bogey on 17. He shot 73 and tied for fifth with Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Chris Kirk (68). Place.
Rory McIlroy made a short run with four straight birdies in the front nine, taking him to 4-under par for the tournament. He was second the rest of the way and finished eighth.
It was the first time a player had rallied from any margin to win in eight Southern Hills majors and was only the second playoff. Retief Goosen won the other at the 2001 US Open after making three putts on the last hole from 12 feet. At least he got another chance, unlike Pereira.
Six of Southern Hills’ seven past major champions are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. Thomas, 29, who now has two majors among his 15 wins on the PGA Tour, will surely go there one day.
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https://www.independent.co.uk/news/justin-thomas-ap-will-zalatoris-mito-pereira-tulsa-b2084896.html Thomas wins 2nd PGA title in playoffs after 7-shot rally