TULSA, Okla. – Justin Thomas never gave in.
Not when he had to battle a cold and allergies before the first round began. Not when he got the worst of the draw the first two days. Not when his putter let him down in the third round. And not when he faced a seven-shot deficit entering Sunday’s final 18 holes at Southern Hills Country Club.
Make that the final 21 holes.
With help from Mito Pereira’s heartbreaking debacle on the 72nd hole, Thomas won the PGA Championship and his second Wanamaker Trophy in a three-hole aggregate playoff against Will Zalatoris, who was seeking his first PGA Tour title.
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The 2017 PGA champion came storming home with four birdies in his last 10 holes in regulation to sign for a 3-under-par 67 to reach 5 under, then birdied the first two extra holes at the par-5 13th and par-4 17th and added a tap-in par on the par-4 final hole to defeat Zalatoris by one shot.
The 104th edition of the PGA will also be remembered for the brutal ending to Pereira’s Cinderella story. Playing in just his second major and first PGA, Pereira took a 3-shot lead into the final round, led by two with four to play and led by one shot going to the final hole.
Trying to become the first from Chile to win a major and the first PGA Tour rookie to win the PGA since Keegan Bradley in 2011, Pereira answered back whenever he faced adversity in the final round and never relinquished the lead.
Until the final 72nd hole.
After leaving his birdie putt on the lip on the 17th, Pereira drilled his tee shot on 18 into a creek on the right side of the fairway. After a penalty drop, he left his uphill third shot left of the green and needed three more shots to make a double-bogey 6 and miss the playoff by one shot.
In 15 minutes, he lost his grip on the Wanamaker, his place in history and his chance to put his first PGA Tour title on his resume.
“Obviously sad to be here and not in the playoff,” Pereira said. “On 18, I wasn’t even thinking about the water. I just wanted to put it in play, and I guess I aimed too far right. I just hit in the water. It’s not how I wanted to end up this week, but really good result.
“Today I was really nervous. I tried to handle it a little bit but it’s really tough. I thought I was going to win on 18, but it is what it is. I thought I was nervous the first day. Then I thought I was nervous the second day. Then I thought I was nervous on the third day but the fourth day was terrible. I mean, this morning was tough. I just played it through, and actually had a one-shot lead on 18 and that was pretty good and sad to hit it in the water. I wish I could do it again.”
Zalatoris, the 36-hole leader, made key 8-footers for birdie on par on the 71st and 72nd holes to finish with a 71 and earn a spot in the playoff. He has now finished runner-up in two majors; I have finished a stroke behind Hideki Matsuyama in the 2021 Masters.
Pereira finished with a 75 and at 4 under. Joining Pereira at 4 under was Cameron Young, who grabbed a share of the lead earlier in the round but a double-bogey 6 on the 70th hole did him in as he finished with a 71.
In a tie for fifth at 3 under were Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Kirk, Fitzpatrick, playing in the final group, was unsteady throughout his 73, while Fleetwood came home with 67 and Kirk at 68.
The 15-time major champion and four-time Wanamaker Trophy winner Tiger Woods withdrew hours after his third round. Woods shot his worst score – a 9-over-par 79 – in his PGA Championship career. Woods clearly labored through the round and the second round, his right foot, ankle and leg that was severely damaged during a single-car rollover accident 15 months ago causing him pain.
It was his first withdrawal from a major since he turned pro in 1996.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism