2022 PGA Championship: Justin Thomas shows composure and seizes precious opportunity to win second Major


2022 PGA Championship: Justin Thomas shows composure and seizes precious opportunity to win second Major

TULSA, Oklahoma – Great championships are precious. There are around 550 individual offers to win the biggest events of the year, but only four trophies spread over as many months. Less than 1% of those who compete in the four majors each year go home completely satisfied.

For a while, the 2022 PGA Championship seemed like someone would go home not only satisfied, but shocked. In Sunday’s finals at Southern Hills Country Club, which was hosting a Major for the eighth time, the top four in the rankings – Mito Pereira, Matt Fitzpatrick, Will Zalatoris and Cameron Young – combined to have zero PGA Tour wins and just under five majors Top 10 in her career.

A win on Sunday would have been life-changing for any of the four. For three quarters of this group, the days of their Korn Ferry tour are still so fresh that capturing this monumental moment must have felt like trying to catch water with your hands.

Justin Thomas knew that.

After shooting 67-67-74 with a dizzying display of ball strikes that was less mechanical movement and more artistic arrangement, he went into Sunday’s finals seven shots down. Still, he was more hopeful than he thought.

“I just remember how tough it was and I remember how tough it is now to win,” Thomas said. “So I knew I would be nervous, and I knew they would feel exactly the same.”

JT played late Thursday and early Friday in a wave two strokes harder than the other side. His golf was so good over the first two days that he beat all but one player in that five-stroke draw.

The whole thing was a show. Thomas moved his ball with so much aplomb earlier in the week that it looked like Jim “Bones” Mackay was controlling it with a remote control. Most modern gamers choose to paint by numbers. If Thomas reaches out for the wide variety of brushes at his disposal, you might as well make room in the museum.

Still, he was behind because of that difficult draw at the weekend. It would get worse before it got better. His 74 on Saturday left him at 2 under and T7, seven behind Pereira, the 54-hole leader. Thomas was almost buried on the board. It seemed like one of the surprisingly few real chances he had of winning a Major was gone before it fully materialized.

Thomas was one of the last men on the range on Saturday night, but he was more optimistic than expected after 74 seemed to snatch one of those precious runs towards another big trophy from some of the best hands in professional golf.

He hit balls for a while and received words of encouragement from Bones, who told JT he needed to stop being so down. Thomas seemed to take it to heart. He ended his Saturday by signing flag after flag for the heartbroken children who had waited all day for his signature.

“I came here in great shape,” Thomas said. “I think [I was] the last player here. … It was so peaceful. It was almost scary how nice it was outside and it’s not often that I’ve stayed in as good shape as I have after the 4th shoot on Saturday at a major [here].”

Thomas started unremarkable on Sunday and shot an even par 35 on the front nine. After making par at number 10 to stay at 2 under for the week, Data Golf set his winning probability at 0.4%. In other words, it would be a miracle.

Then something happened that reminded everyone of his last big win, the 2017 PGA Championship in Quail Hollow. JT ran in a putt from 65 feet to #11, half-bowed to the crowd and tipped his hat. It was a redux from a birdie on his final round when he last won the Wanamaker Trophy.

Thomas also shagged #12 and then missed a birdie putt on #15 that would have brought the house down. It felt at the time like it would be a shot he would look back on with regret.

An up-and-down birdie on the moveable par 4 17th – that said Bone was tougher than it looked – putting JT down to 5 while the mighty No. 18 waited. Thomas yanked this man-sized cutter off the tee and hit a right pin with a championship-caliber iron.

“It’s just great,” said Thomas. “I really don’t know how else to describe it. I mean, that iron shot at 18 in the regulation, that’s why I play golf. That’s why I train. All the hours and everything and the time you put in you want to be in that scenario, in that situation, against the backdrop of the whole gallery up there, knowing I’m in the running.

“It’s hard to explain, but it’s a full-body chills feeling.”

Thomas somehow missed a putt that once again felt expensive. He played numbers 17 and 18 as best he could, but didn’t know if his third 67 in four rounds would do. JT made his way to the scoring tent – where he was splayed on a table as the clubhouse leader at 5 under – to watch the theatrics unfold on the court behind him.

Just before heading to a more private area to watch the end of the tournament, Thomas looked up and said to no one in particular, “Hope for the best, man.”

He has it.

Zulatoris finished the 1-over on the back nine with a clutch birdie on the last to squeak in the house alongside Thomas with 5-under.

After Pereira, who had played the first seven holes of the back nine in 1 over, made a birdie putt on No. 17 a rotation short of the cup short, the 54-hole leader went to the 18th hole and needed a par, in order to win. His shot on the final hole of the tournament looked like a check swing and prompted someone I walked next to to say, “It looked like he was electrocuted on impact.”

Pereira made a heartbreaking double bogey on the 18th and missed the playoffs altogether.

At the end of the course everything happens quickly.

Thomas was taken to the other end of the driving range where players had been scoring all week. There was no divot to be found.

CBS announcer Colt Knost fed him play-by-play when the game ended in regulation. From there he was placed on a cart and driven to the 13th tee where the three-hole aggregate game began.

Meanwhile, an impromptu parade broke out. Chants of “JT! JT!” mixed with that special smell you only get at majors – a mix of mud and sweat and hamburger smoke. It leveled off through the playoffs.

Thomas and Zalatoris traded birdies on the par-5 13th. JT’s dad Mike appeared ready to open the roof to the crowd that had surrounded the green.

A mediocre major had suddenly become a classic.

As Thomas walked to the 17th, a bystander yelled, “Mom, that’s a bad man.” That was it In front JT beat the tournament on his penultimate hole: a high-hanging rocket that flipped, hit the front of the green and landed 34 feet from the cup. He made a two put for a birdie while Zatoris made par.

Bones landed in JT’s ear on the 18th, like the famous Draymond Green-Kevin Durant GIF, and Thomas hit another double for par on the toughest hole of the week.

The third-greatest 54-hole comeback in major championship history—and the greatest of this century—was complete. Zalatoris took off his cap and clapped his hands remotely as the normally calm Thomas collapsed.

“I just think it’s just so hard to win,” Thomas said when asked about the emotions afterwards. “That’s it. I think rightly that it’s harder to win now than when I started my tour. … I think it’s easy to cast doubt and just sort of [think], like, “All right, what’s going to happen? when will it happen is will it happen?’

“I just turned 18 in the playoffs and I knew it wasn’t over yet, but I looked up and wanted to record it because you don’t know when and if it’s going to happen again. It’s such an incredible, awesome feeling that you just want to enjoy it.”

Majors are precious. There are so few of them and so many great players vying to take them home. As Thomas took his final kick on Sunday, first-round leader Rory McIlroy told CBS Sports that “dejection” was the primary emotion he was experiencing after finishing eighth in the most recent ranking and his own Attempt to win slipped away.

Thomas learned how few options existed in the years between his 2017 PGA championship and this one, hence his emotion at 18. After winning his first major at the tender age of 24, it always feels like becoming they start to flow. And then they don’t.

The last five years have produced an absurd series of champions. Scottie Scheffler, Jon Rahm, Collin Morikwa, Dustin Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau have all won at least one since Thomas won his last – a few of them more than one.

In a career, even star golfers can only hit a handful of real runs on Sunday afternoons at major championships. If they’re lucky.

As Thomas made his way to the clubhouse after a 275 in regulation, he walked past PGA of America personnel handling the oversized Wanamaker Trophy.

The handler in a polo and vest was carrying this 27-pound, 28-inch tall mug as Thomas mounted alongside him. The trophy was wrapped in a protective blue velvet case. It wasn’t quite time yet.

For another 20 minutes, it seemed like this moment would become a metaphor for Thomas’ day and this period of his career.

He played so well for several years without having a great game to show for it. He had played great three days in a row and so badly one. The men carrying the trophy sauntered down the hill to join those ahead of Thomas in the leaderboard who weren’t finished.

Nobody took the cover off the trophy and JT got his playoff.

As he climbed No. 18 for the second time on Sunday, the Wanamaker was bared for all to see. It reflected the sun setting in the Oklahoma sky, where Tiger Woods last won a major championship in 2007.

Thomas was still a teenager at the time, and the idea that he and Tiger would one day be close friends was certainly an unfathomable dream for him at the time. Now they are the last two golfers to win majors in Southern Hills.

As Thomas made his way through the crowd around No. 18, the exposed trophy lay gleaming, waiting to be picked up.

JT had another valuable major of his own.

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