Justin Thomas outlasts Will Zalatoris in 3-hole playoff to win second PGA Championship

Justin Thomas outlasts Will Zalatoris in 3-hole playoff to win second PGA Championship

TULSA, Okla. — Justin Thomas is a great champion when he least expected it.

Thomas tied a PGA Championship record on Sunday when he rallied from a seven-shot deficit at Southern Hills and then saved his most exquisite shot for a three-hole playoff to defeat Will Zalatoris.

He finished 3-under at 67, matching the low score of a final round made more difficult by nerves than wind. He took control in the playoffs with a 3-35-foot wood on the 301-yard 17th hole for a two-putt birdie.

He tapped for par and stood straight with a smile, a mixture of joy and disbelief.

“I was asked at the start of the week what lead was safe and I said, ‘No lead,’ Thomas said. “I can’t believe I ended up in the playoffs.

There hadn’t been a major tournament playoff since the 2017 Masters, when Sergio Garcia beat Justin Rose. The 19 consecutive majors without a playoff was the longest streak in major championship history.

Thomas needed a lot of help, and Mito Pereira provided it in a deflated finish. The 27-year-old Chilean, who has only played his second major, took a one-shot lead until the last hole and ducked into a stream to make a double bogey.

It was the first time since Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot at the 2006 US Open that a player had lost a one-stroke lead on the final hole to lose a major.

Zalatoris looked like he had squandered his chances for a first major – and a first PGA Tour win – when he fired three putts from just outside 20 feet on the 16th hole. But he responded with a birdie from the bunker on 17 and made an 8-foot putt on 18 for a 71.

He joined Thomas at 5-under 275, and they played when Pereira faltered.

Thomas, who had gone 14 months since his last Players Championship victory last year, now has a PGA Tour victory in each of his last eight years and moves up to No. 5 in the world. Since winning his first PGA Tour title in the 2015-16 season, Thomas’ 15 wins are tied with Dustin Johnson for most of any player.

And of the 22 players to win multiple PGA Championships, Thomas, 29, is only the fifth to win the event twice before turning 30.

John Mahaffey in the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont was the other player to come seven shots down on the final day. He also won in the playoffs against Tom Watson and Jerry Pate.

Thomas was still seven strokes down when he made his remarkable run, a mix of key birdies and avoiding mistakes on his card. It started with a 65-foot birdie putt just before the green at a backpin on the par-3 11th. He went close with an 18-foot birdie on the next hole.

He was prowling, while the leading peloton behind him was losing oil.

Zalatoris and Cameron Young each grabbed Pereira, very briefly. All found trouble in the rough and in the sand. Thomas almost got a long shot from the bunker on the 16th, birdied from an accessible left bunker on the 17th and made a birdie putt from 10 feet that he thought he needed at the end.

He missed it and got a reprieve.

Pereira was set to become Chile’s first grand champion and give South America a career Grand Slam.

Young, whose father is a longtime PGA professional, will also reflect on missed opportunities. Playing with Zalatoris, a former roommate at Wake Forest, Young was in the mix all day and was briefly tied for the lead. His hopes ended on the 16th, he found a bunker to the right of the green, detonated weakly from 30 feet and three putts for a double bogey. He finished with a 71.

England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who played in the final group with Pereira, also stayed within range, two shots behind until his botched bogey on the 17th. He shot 73 and finished tied for fifth with Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Chris Kirk (68).

Rory McIlroy had a brief run with four straight birdies on the front nine, putting him at 4 under par for the tournament. He was 2 the rest of the way and finished eighth.

In eight majors at Southern Hills, it was the first time a player had rallied by any margin to win, and it was only the second playoff. Retief Goosen won the other at the 2001 US Open after hitting three 12-foot putts on the last hole.

Thomas closed at 14-1 to win the PGA Championship at Caesars Sportsbook. His odds were as long as 28-1 in Sunday’s final round.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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