By Doug Ferguson-AP Golf Writer
Tulsa, Oklahoma (AP) — Justin Thomas was the main champion when he wasn’t expecting the most.
When Thomas recovered from a seven-shot deficit at Southern Hills on Sunday, he was in line with the PGA Championship record and saved his most exquisite shotmaking for a three-hole playoff to defeat Will Zaratris. ..
He finished with a 3-under 67, which was more nerve-wracking than the wind, consistent with the low score of the final round. In the playoffs, he took control of the 3 woods 35 feet on the 17th hole at 301 yards for a birdie with 2 putts.
He tapped Par and stood upright with a smile, a mixture of joy and distrust.
“I was asked at the beginning of the week which lead was safe and said’no lead’,” said Thomas. “I can’t believe I played in the playoffs.”
Thomas needed a lot of help, and Mito Pereira provided it with a tragic end. A 27-year-old from Chile, he played in the second major, went to the final hole in one shot, and drove to the creek to make a double bogey.
This was the first time Phil Mickelson had lost a one-shot lead and a major in the last hole at the 2006 US Open Wingedfoot.
Zalatoris seemed to abandon his chances of winning the first major and first PGA Tour when he three-putted from just outside 20 feet on the 16th hole. However, he responded with a birdie from the bunker on the 17th and holed an 8-foot par putt 71 on the 18th.
He joined Thomas with a 5-under 275 and they played when Pereira was frustrated.
Fourteen months after his last victory at The Players Championship last year, Thomas has won the PGA Tour in each of the last eight years, finishing fifth in the world.
John Mahoffy of the PGA Championship in Oakmont in 1978 was another player who came seven shots late on the final day. He also won the playoffs with Tom Watson and Jerry Pate.
Thomas was still seven shots behind when he mixed key birdies and mistakes into the card and showed a remarkable run. We started with a 65-foot birdie putt from the front of the green to the 11th back pin of par 3. He approached with an 18-foot birdie on the next hole.
He was lurking while the first puck behind him was leaking oil.
Zalatoris and Cameron Young each captured Pereira. All of them found trouble in rough and sand. Thomas hit a long bunker shot on the 16th, made a birdie from the left bunker on the 17th, and had a 10-foot birdie putt that he thought he needed at the end.
He missed and got an amnesty.
Pereira became Chile’s first major champion and was trying to give South America a Grand Slam career.
Even after five bogies, he did not lose the lead and offered a clutch par save from the bunker on the left side of the 9th green and well behind the 10th green. It was bigger than the 12-foot putt on the 16th and couldn’t go one shot ahead.
It was all undone in one swing.
His sawed swing with the driver was very effective in the front hole, peeling to the right and flowing into the stream to the right of the 18th fairway. After the penalty drop, his approach up the hill started to the left, never cut back and landed roughly. His chips rolled off the back edge of the green.
His double bogey gave him 75 and was unlucky for such a promising week.
“On Monday, I just wanted to make a cut. On Sunday, I wanted to win,” Pereira said. “I will bring this to learn for the future.”
Young, whose father is a longtime PGA pro, also looks back on the opportunities he missed. Young, who was playing with former Wakeforest roommate Zaratris, participated in the mix all day and was temporarily taken the lead. His hopes ended in 16 days, when he found a bunker to the right of the green, blew it down to 30 feet and put three double bogeys. He closed at 71.
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who played in the last group with Pereira, also stayed within range two shots behind his sloppy bogey on the 17th. He shot 73 and was fifth with Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Chris Kirk (68).
Rory McIlroy made a short run with four straight birdies in the front nine and was four under par in the tournament. He was two years old on the rest of the road and finished in eighth place.
In the eight Southern Hills majors, it was the first time players had gathered from any margin to win and the second playoff. Retief Goosen won another after putting 12 feet to 3 putts on the last hole at the 2001 US Open. Unlike Pereira, at least he got another chance.
Six of the seven major champions in Southern Hills so far have been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. 29-year-old Thomas has won two majors on his 15 career PGA Tour and is definitely heading there one day.
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