Justin Thomas believes his experience was a crucial factor after beating Will Zalatoris in a play-off to win his second US PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
Chile’s Mito Pereira held a one-shot lead on the 72nd hole after seeing his birdie putt on the 17th stop agonisingly short of the hole, but pushed his drive into the creek and ran up a devastating double bogey.
That left Thomas and Zalatoris to contest a three-hole aggregate play-off and Thomas birdied the 13th and 17th and parred the 18th to win by a shot and lift the Wanamaker Trophy for the second time, having started the day seven shots off the lead.
That meant the former world number one equalled the biggest comeback in US PGA history, John Mahaffey coming from seven behind Tom Watson after 54 holes to defeat Watson and Jerry Pate in a play-off at Oakmont in 1978.
“It hasn’t sunk in just yet,” said Thomas, who won the 2017 US PGA at Quail Hollow. “I think it did more in the moment. I was jittery and I almost kind of couldn’t feel my limbs walking up to that tap-in.
“Trying to two-putt from 25 feet is usually pretty doable, but downhill when you know you’ve got a two-putter to win, I was very pleased to see it end up that close to the hole.
“I felt like I probably needed to get it to six or seven (under) at the start of the day, but I also knew there was a chance that I could shoot two, three, four under and it could be good enough.
“Although I was so far back there wasn’t that many guys ahead of me, and it’s a very tough golf course and anything could happen.”
While Pereira, Zalatoris, Cameron Young and England’s Matt Fitzpatrick were all trying to win their first PGA Tour title, never mind a maiden major, Thomas had 16 wins under his belt before making the trip to Tulsa.
Asked how much his experience came into play, Thomas added: “A lot. It definitely did come in those last three or four holes.
“I played that back nine beautifully. The holes I didn’t make birdie I had really good looks and I hit great putts that just didn’t go in, and the holes I missed the green I was able to salvage a par, which is what you have to do to win a major.
“I kept telling myself I’ve been here before. Although it’s been five years, it’s somewhere down in there.”
Zalatoris has now recorded five top-10 finishes in his first eight majors and is confident he will not have to wait long to win one of the game’s four biggest events.
“I’m pretty excited where my game is at for sure and I know I’m going to get one. Just a matter of time,” the 25-year-old said.
“Once I saw Mito hit in the water on 18, I knew that putt that I was going to have on 18 was probably to get into a play-off, so I will bottle that putt on 18 for the future.
“I’ll play those (play-off) holes at one under any day of the week and JT happened to play them in two. Hat’s off to JT. He’s been due for a while to get another win, let alone a major.”
To his credit, Pereira spoke to the media despite the crushing disappointment of coming so close to becoming the first player from Chile to win a major title.
“On 18, I wasn’t even thinking about the water,” he said. “I just wanted to put it in play and I guess I aimed too far right.
“It’s not how I wanted to end up this week, but a really good result. I thought I was going to win on 18, but it is what it is. We’ll have another one.”
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