Tulsa, Oklahoma (AP) — Justin Thomas wrapped his arms around the 27-pound Wanamaker trophy after winning his second PGA Championship, and thousands of fans hailed him on the 18th green under the Southern Hills sunset.
Glad they got up on time on Sunday.
For nearly four days, the second major of the year was sleeping big, and number one on the leaderboards consisted mostly of kinsmen looking for momentary stardom. Golf itself wasn’t flashy either, as everyone from Abraham Ancer to Tiger Woods centered around the banned and unforgivable Perry Maxwell classic.
Damn, even the last champion hit a tee shot on Sunday.
“I’m just being sober.” said Thomas. “I don’t know what else to say. It was the best example I have ever made in my life.”
Cameron Young tried to climb the leaderboard in the final round, but missed a win in the fairway bunker on the 16th hole. Will Zalatoris survived his entire life until little streams, shrubs and short grass were found. Chile’s Mito Pereira had a career-changing moment on the 18th hole, staring him head-to-head until his fatal shot.
It was the point at which the PGA Championship went from uninspired to unbelievable.
Pereira scored a double bogey with a shot into the creek off the tee from the 490-yard finishing hole, and took away the most unexpected win of any major championship, the $2.7 million prize money, a lifetime seat in the tournament and all the other cheapies. — But, to determine him, we took him out of the 3-hole aggregate playoffs.
Thomas threw a couple of birdies from behind to get a birdie on the 17th hole, putting him in the lead at 5-under. And he caught another birdie by hitting a brilliant shot within 15 feet of the 18th hole, but at the moment he thought it was necessary for the playoffs, he watched the putt skating past the hole.
The crowd around the green, now engrossed in the process, gave out a collective moan.
“The leaders could have hit 3 or 4 under today, could make a few more birdies and see the 18th leaderboard and I’d probably hit 4 or 5,” Thomas later said. “I just tried to birdie on every hole I could.”
Stepping behind him, Zalatoris finally captured a Renegade iron in time to make a birdie on the 17th hole, returning it to 5 under. He never gave him a chance to pitch a birdie at the age of 18, and instead let the restless 8-foot pitcher stay there.
“I always felt like I was one, two, three,” Zalatoris said. “Then when I saw Mito fall into the water in the 18th, the putt I was going to make in the 18th was probably the playoffs. So I would putt 18 for the future.”
Thomas and Zalatoris set off again for the playoffs after watching Pereira fall.
After two birdies engaged on the 13th hole, Thomas showed the same composure he had been in the situation before, hitting a tee shot on the green on the 308 yard 17th hole. He made a two-putt birdie and Zalatoris was only able to manage the par, this time sending the 2017 PGA Champion back to 18th with his one-shot lead.
With the once-dormant crowd still fighting for a seat, Thomas and Zalatoris found the green with an approach shot, and the only drama left was whether the longtime club pro’s son could come down to number two for the win.
He was. And the bleak championship came to a dramatic end.
Thomas coincided with the biggest comeback in the history of the PGA Championship, set up by John Mahaffey at Oakmont in 1978, where he rallied seven downs before winning the playoffs by defeating Tom Watson and Jerry Pate. And his final round 67 coincided with the lowest round of the day, which ultimately helped end a 14-month draw overtime.
It also gave the Southern Hills another notable major championship. Six of the previous seven are in the Hall of Fame.
“it’s fun.” said Thomas. “At the beginning of the week, I asked what kind of lead was safe, and he said, ‘There is no lead. This place is too rough. But hitting the fairways can make birdies and I’ve been patient. It was unbelievable that we made it to the playoffs.”
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