Justin Thomas is bound to be on any list of potential contenders for major championships. Yet by the time the final putt was made on Sunday at the PGA Championship, he seemed like an unlikely victor.
Thomas wiped out a seven-stroke deficit from the beginning of the round and had plenty of energy for a huge tee shot in the ensuing playoff.
Thomas birdied the first two holes of a three-hole aggregate playoff to win the PGA Championship for the second time, topping Will Zalatoris in the extra holes at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.
His playoff blast off the 17th tee may be discussed for a long time. The ball bounced onto the green at the 302-yard par 4, and two putts later he was in command.
“That was a nice one. I hit a beautiful shot (there) in regulation,” Thomas said. “For it to go up the green (in the playoff) was nice to put probably a little bit of heat on Will.”
Thomas, a native of Kentucky who also won the tournament in 2017, began the day seven strokes behind leader Mito Pereira of Chile. He tied the largest 54-hole comeback to win in PGA Championship history.
The 29-year-old shot a 3-under-par 67 to finish at 5 under, a mark matched by Zalatoris (71).
“It was a bizarre day,” Thomas said, noting that his round even included a shanked shot. “Although I was so far back, there wasn’t that many guys ahead of me, and it’s a very tough golf course and anything could happen.”
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Thomas and Zalatoris played Nos. 13, 17 and 18 in the playoff. They both notched birdies on the par-5 13th before Thomas went ahead with a birdie on the next hole. He had a tap-in par at the 18th to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy again.
“I’ll play those holes at 1 under any day of the week and J.T. happened to play in 2 (under),” Zalatoris said. “I hit a great putt on 17. … Hats off to J.T. He’s been due for a while to get another win, let alone a major.”
Zalatoris is still waiting. He was a runner-up in a major for the second time, also placing second in the 2021 Masters.
“Pretty excited where my game is at for sure,” Zalatoris said. “I know I’m going to get one. Just a matter of time.”
Pereira, who led or shared the lead for most of the final two rounds, went to the 18th tee with a one-shot advantage. But his tee shot found a water hazard and he ended up with a double bogey and a final-round 75. He tied for third place with Cameron Young (71) at 4 under.
“It’s tough to finish like that,” Pereira said. “A really good week. … Just (needed to) hit it a little bit better.”
Thomas’ 67 matched the lowest round of the day. He went 4 under across a nine-hole stretch concluding on the 17th, but he managed only par on his final hole.
Zalatoris, the 36-hole leader, made a clutch par putt on the 18th hole to stay tied with Thomas. Yet they were both a shot off the pace until Pereira faltered.
“I fought like crazy all day,” Zalatoris said.
Pereira began the round with a three-shot lead, only to slip into a tie with Zalatoris before building his edge back to three strokes. Later, Pereira stumbled again and fell into a tie with Young at 6 under.
But it was Thomas, a former world No. 1 player, who ended up being the biggest threat. He was the only golfer among the late contenders who already owned a victory on the PGA Tour.
It was a devastating conclusion to an inspiring week for Pereira, who was making his PGA Championship debut and soared from No. 100 to No. 49 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“I don’t know what happened. I thought I hit it really good,” the 27-year-old said of his last tee shot. “… On Monday, I just wanted to make the cut. On Sunday, I just wanted to win.”
Young and Zalatoris, who were college teammates at Wake Forest and played in a final-round pairing, were hampered by mistakes on No. 16. Young was just one shot back when he took a double bogey. Zalatoris then missed a par putt from inside 5 feet for a bogey.
Chris Kirk (68) and Englishmen Matt Fitzpatrick (73) and Tommy Fleetwood (67) tied for fifth at 3 under. First-round leader Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland recovered with a final-round 68 and ended up eighth at 2 under.
The final day didn’t include Tiger Woods, who withdrew for the first time in a major in an announcement that came following the completion of Saturday’s third round. Woods was 12 over and tied for 76th after the third round.