Unfortunately Mito Pereira’s painful implosion will prove more memorable than victory for Justin Thomas.
Pereira stood on the 18th tee in the final round of this US PGA Championship with the making of history in his grasp. There had never been a Chilean major winner before. There still has not; Pereira, needing a pair for victory, carved a tetchy drive into a water hazard. An 18-handicap golfer would have been dismayed by the shot.
Pereira’s double-bogey six did not even allow him the consolation of a playoff. That took place between Thomas and Will Zalatoris after they had tied at five under par. This tournament proved the slowest of burners but high drama was worth the wait.
For Thomas, US PGA glory for the second time. A terrific drive to within 40ft of the pin at the par-four 17th, the second playoff hole, was key to victory. He outscored Zalatoris by one over holes 13, 17 and 18. In regulation play, Thomas’s closing 67 was superior to Zalatoris by four.
Pereira, to his great credit, accepted every interview request. “Today I was really nervous,” admitted the world No 100. “I tried to handle it a little bit but it was really tough. I thought I was going to win on 18, but it is what it is. We’ll have another one.” Good on him.
Matt Fitzpatrick, seeking to become the first Englishman since 1919 to win this event, finished two strokes shy of the playoff after a closing 73. “It is tough to take but I just didn’t hit the ball very well,” said Fitzpatrick.
Thomas blasted himself into contention with a birdie putt from 65ft that found the bottom of the hole at the 11th. The 2017 champion collected another shot at the 12th. As those ahead slipped and stumbled, Thomas was the man to watch. He had head in hands after missing a decent opportunity at the 15th, which he assumed was a significant moment. Still, I have refused to give him. A birdie three at the penultimate hole edged him to within one of Pereira. At the last, Thomas missed from 10ft to tie Pereira but salvation was not far away.
Tommy Fleetwood’s stunning back nine of 31, including four birdies in a row from the 14th, meant a top-10 finish. This marks Fleetwood’s finest major finish since the 2019 Open. Fleetwood has encountered his fair share of on-course struggles since Shane Lowry prevailed at Royal Portrush.
“The Masters this year was my best finish that I’ve ever had in a Masters; this is the best finish I’ve ever had at the PGA,” Fleetwood said. “If I can keep that train going, the other two should be decent major weeks.
“Part of life is you have your good times and your bad times. I’ve never stopped working. I’ve always tried my best. I’ve always felt like I’ve been working really hard. I think everybody that gets to a certain level, with the right information, is by far good enough to come out the other side.”
Rory McIlroy began day four sitting nine shots from the lead and with no apparent chance of winning his fifth major. Hopes were raised of a famous McIlroy victory as he produced birdies at the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. The run was halted by a bogey at the 6th and run of 10 pars before another dropped shot at the 17th.
That McIlroy did not stop for media duties suggested he was seriously stung by the playing out of this tournament after an opening 65. Saturday’s 74 was where the real damage was done; largely by McIlroy playing the 6th and 11th – par threes – in a combined five over. A closing 68 left McIlroy two under par.
Justin Rose admitted his recent form had been poor, which added value to a fourth-round 68 for an even-par total. “It helps the confidence,” Rose said. “You can do all the work in the world but you need to get out and play tournament golf. You need to feel the mini-butterflies you get out there.”
As a tense battle ensued at the head of proceedings, it felt appropriate to remember how Tiger Woods used to close out major wins with a minimum of fuss. There has been no update from Woods after the PGA of America announced his withdrawal from this event after 54 holes. Whether he is of suitable physical condition to feature in next month’s US Open remains open to debate.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism