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TULSA, Okla. — Justin Thomas paid no attention to any score but his own Sunday at the PGA Championship, knowing he was seven shots behind but only six players ahead on a Southern Hills course where anything could happen .
I could never have dreamed how it all played out, a chaotic final hour of pressure moments, decisive putts and unimaginable anguish for Mito Pereira.
Thomas hit a rod on the sixth hole. He made a 65-foot birdie putt that started his record-tying comeback. He missed a 10-foot birdie putt on the last hole that he feared would cost him. He never led until he dropped a hole in his three-hole aggregate playoff with Will Zalatoris.
And when Thomas tapped for par to capture another PGA Championship title, he stood tall on the 18th green in a mixture of delight and disbelief.
“I was asked earlier in the week what lead is safe and I said, ‘No lead,'” Thomas said. “I can’t believe I found myself in a playoff.”
Thomas closed with a three-under 67, which proved to be enough for a tiebreaker when Pereira, the 27-year-old Chilean in his first PGA Championship who was never behind all day, waded into a creek and doubled. bogey the 18th hole to finish a shot from behind.
It was the first time since Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot at the 2006 US Open that a player had given up a one-shot lead on the last hole to lose a major.
“It’s sad to hit him in the water,” Pereira said. “I mean, I wish I could do it again.”
Like his first PGA title at Quail Hollow in 2017, Thomas’ signature shot came on the 17th hole. It was the second hole of the aggregate playoff. He drilled a 301-yard, par-4 3-wood at 35 feet for a two-putt birdie, his first lead of the day.
Zalatoris, whose mandatory eight-foot birdie and par shots on the last two regulation holes took him to the tiebreaker with a 71, was unable to deliver in overtime. His 8-foot birdie putt on the 17th in the tiebreaker missed and he was unable to catch Thomas in the end.
It looked like Zalatoris had blown his chances at a first major — and first PGA Tour victory — when he hit a 3-pointer from almost 20 feet on the 16th hole. But he responded with a birdie from the bunker on the 17th and holed a putt for 8-foot pair on the 18 for a 71.
He joined Thomas at 275, five under, and they played on when Pereira faltered.
Thomas, who had passed 14 months since his last victory at The Players Championship last year, now has a PGA Tour victory in each of his last eight years and moves up to No. 5 in the world.
His second major came when he least expected it.
None of the six players ahead of him had ever won a major. Thomas knew it. He was in the longest drought since his first PGA Tour title. He was also aware of that.
“I remember how hard it is to win now, so I knew I was going to be nervous and I knew they would feel exactly the same way,” Thomas said. “You just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
John Mahaffey at the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont was the other player to come from seven shots behind on the final day. He also won a playoff against Tom Watson and Jerry Pate.
Thomas was still seven shots behind when he made his remarkable run, a mix of key birdies and keeping errors off his card. He started with an unlikely birdie putt from just short of the green to a back pin on the par-3 11th hole. He got closer with an 18-foot birdie on the next hole.
He was on the prowl, while the leading pack behind him was dripping with oil.
Zalatoris and Cameron Young caught Pereira, very briefly. They all found problems in the rough, sand and greens.
Pereira was about to become Chile’s first grand champion and give South America the Grand Slam of his career.
Even after five bogeys, he never lost the lead and made crucial saves from the bunker to the left of the ninth green and well beyond the tenth green. None was bigger than his 12-foot putt on the 16th to stay a shot ahead.
Everything came undone with a bang.
His clipped driver swing, so effective on the previous hole, shifted to the right and entered the creek on the right side of the 18th fairway. After a penalty drop, his approach to the hill began on the left and it never backed down, landing raw. His chip rolled off the back edge of the green.
His double bogey gave him a 75, an unlucky ending to such a promising week.
“On Monday, I just wanted to make the cut. On Sunday, I wanted to win,” Pereira said. “I will take this to learn for the future.”
Young, whose father is a longtime PGA pro, will also remember the missed opportunities. Playing 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 when he found a bunker to the right of the green, shot weakly 30 feet and triple putted for a double bogey. He closed with a 71.
Rory McIlroy made a brief run with four straight birdies on the front nine, putting him at 4-under for the tournament. He was 2 up the rest of the way and finished 8th.
In eight majors at Southern Hills, it was the first time a player had come back from any margin to win, and it was only the second tiebreaker. Retief Goosen won the other at the 2001 US Open after making three putts from 12 feet on the final hole. At least he had another chance, unlike Pereira.
Six of the seven previous major champions at Southern Hills are in the World Golf Hall of Fame. The 29-year-old Thomas, now with two majors among his 15 career wins on the PGA Tour, will surely get there one day.