Justin Thomas wins PGA Championship after Mito Pereira fails

Justin Thomas wins PGA Championship after Mito Pereira fails

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TULSA – It seemed clear mid-afternoon Sunday that the 104th PGA Championship would go to one of four young guys you probably wouldn’t recognize if they showed up at your front door, trying to get you. sell a vacuum cleaner.

How odd, then, that the gap between these four and the rest eroded when the familiar face of Justin Thomas stormed off the leaderboard there. How odd that Thomas, a player many golf intellectuals thought would win here, wins here in a three-hole playoff against Will Zalatoris long after those same geeks had to conclude he wouldn’t, long after a deficit early in the round of a desperate eight shots. And how much stranger than, along the way, one of those four little-known youngsters, Mito Pereira of Chile, staggers to a three-stroke lead in both a creek and the haunted halls of golf lore. .

At times, Thomas must have assumed he wasn’t winning.

“I wasn’t looking at the leaderboards today,” he said. “I was just trying to play golf.”

No wonder when he threw his par 14-inch putt at No. 18 in the playoffs, he sort of laughed.

When geeks sit years from now and rave about a dreamy Sunday with soft clouds giving way to the Southern Hills sun, they might not remember how Thomas played the last 12 holes of Round 4 in 4 under par – four birdies, eight pars – to reach 5 under and the tip of the lead, how his 67 made him the only player in the last seven groups to break par. They may not remember how the 29-year-old’s face took on a look of charismatic certainty as he entered the flawless birdie-birdie-par playoff that would bring him a second Major and a second PGA title. They might not identify that Thomas’ rise after seven strokes at dawn tied him for the PGA Championship record alongside John Mahaffey in 1978 at Oakmont.

What they will absolutely remember, human nature being human nature, is how the 100th player in the world (Pereira) reached the 72nd hole (No. 18) with a one stroke lead (at minus 6) and an absence of fear (driver in the hands). They will remember how sickly Pereira’s ride looked as she veered off to the right, jumped over a creekside embankment and plunged into it.

They will remember Pereira’s score from there – an REM nightmare of a double bogey that featured a chip from one side of the green to another side – and how it took him from 6 under to 4 under, leaving Thomas and Zalatoris instead from 5 cents and place Pereira among the rich volumes of golf horror stories.

Analysis: Justin Thomas defeats Will Zalatoris in the playoffs to win the PGA Championship

The man had led by three to 9 under at the start and held on, albeit shaky and with a few saves par. He would see a 12-foot birdie putt on the No. 17 stop just short of the cup door and a two-shot lead, as if he didn’t have enough memories to scream out of the corner of his brain. Then he had his march to No. 18, an unlikely leader of an unlikely golf country seeking par at the course’s toughest hole for four days.

Then he had something only a psychopath could applaud.

“I mean, I wish I could do it again,” he said afterwards.

For so long they had been ahead: Mito and Will and Cameron and Matt. Their ages were 27, 25, 25 and 27, deepening a recent PGA Tour theme about youth growing up fast and ready to perform like the seasoned. Two of them (Zalatoris and Cameron Young) went to Wake Forest together. By 3 o’clock in the afternoon, they had not broken as much as others had broken under them, and there was a winner coming from Pereira at 9 under, Zalatoris at 7 under or Young and the Englishman Matt Fitzpatrick at 6 cents. Casual golf watchers and other channel swimmers may have come to know them.

Well, how absurd it is that the eventual top score turns out to be 5 cents. Pereira, in high position for only his second major, bogeyed our 3, 7, 8, 12 and 14 but birdied our 5 and 13 as he headed for No 18, 75 and unforgettable . Young, the New Yorker whose ranking rose from No. 1,510 two years ago to No. 264 a year ago to No. 38 on Sunday, looked controversial until his three-putt 30-footer on #16 causes a double bogey. He tied for third at 4 under and said, “We had a good time for the most part.” Fitzpatrick, by far the most experienced in his 28th major with a top 10, finally faded with a 73 built on three back-nine bogeys. He finished tied for fifth at under 3 and said, “It’s obviously tough to take.

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Zalatoris, already a nascent presence with four major top 10s in eight tries and a second-place finish at his first Masters in 2021, has taken the wild road. “I fought like crazy all day,” he said. He spent a lot of time on a cart path past a thick, handsome bush at #6 and by a stream in the tall grass at #12. He looked in, then he looked out , then watched when he made two steel putts, a birdie from just under eight feet on the No. 17 and a par from just over eight feet on the No. 18.

With that he was 5 under, then with Pereira’s failure he had a playoff spot and momentum. Yet his momentum had nothing to do with the long-locomotive style of Thomas, who won the 2017 PGA at Quail Hollow in Charlotte via a more conventional comeback, that of an opening 73 Thursday three-rounder in the ’60s. .

“I was very calm today,” Thomas said. “I was very calm in the playoffs. I was calm the last couple [of regulation] Holes. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted to do, that’s really all I could ask for. Some shots gave him “a whole-body shivering feeling,” like his 8-iron to the green on the hard No. 18 in regulation that gave him a birdie chance he couldn’t quite get. convert.

He had started to get rowdy from the middle of the round when he played after blow after blow, after the disappointment of a 74 on Saturday that led to a helpful pep talk from caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay. He birdied No. 9 with an 11-footer without anyone really watching. His 64-foot chip on No. 11 slammed into the holeshot, bringing him to 3 under. His 17-footer on the No. 12 took a cheerful little spin around the lip before conforming. He birdied No. 17 to start and got to 5 under with no holes to catch Pereira.

Then the golf ghouls spoke – memorably.

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