Long-hitting superstar Justin Thomas came from seven strokes back today to win his second PGA Championship, and thus his second major, at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Leader Mito Pereira of Chile, South America, collapsed on the last hole in regulation play with a double bogey six to finish one stroke back. But for Thomas, the early leader in the clubhouse with a three-under par 67, it still wasn’t over.
Will Zalantoris, the 36-hole leader, tied Thomas for 72 holes with a total score of 265. That meant there would be a playoff. Instead of the normal sudden-death playoff in PGA Tour golf tournaments, since the year 2000 the PGA Championship has had a three-hole aggregate playoff when needed. So, Thomas and Zalantoris went head-to-head on holes number 13, 17, and 18.
Zalantoris drove nicely in the fairway all three times. On the par five 13th, he hit the longest drive of the day and a six iron to about thirty feet and easily two-putted for a birdie four. Thomas was barely in the right rough, laid up short of the creek fronting the green, and hit a beauty with his wedge to four feet to easily make it for his birdie.
On the short par-four 17th hole, Thomas drove onto the green for an easy two-putt birdie while Zalantoris missed his 15-foot birdie putt to make par, placing him one cumulative stroke back of Thomas.
On the long and uphill par four 18th hole, and thus the last of their three-hole aggregate playoff, Thomas drove long and barely in the right side of the fairway, dangerously close to the water-filled creek that meanders about this golf course. Zalatoris drove more safely with a three into the middle of the tight fairway. He then hit his mid-iron to the front edge of the green, with about a 50-foot putt. So, Zalatoris had hit his iron shot right online with the pin on the right, back side of the green, but with not enough distance.
Thomas hit his nine-iron second shot safely to the middle of the green with about a 25-foot putt. Zalatoris made a good putt to about one foot to make his par. But it was not enough since Thomas easily two-putted to defeat Zalatoris by one stroke in their cumulative total and therefore hoist the Wannamaker Trophy minutes later in the presentation.
So, Will Zalatoris finished alone in second place in a major again after doing it last year in the Masters Tournament. Zalatoris, winner of the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award in the 2020-2021 season, is making his mark in the greatest game on grass.
Mito Pereira’s collapse with a double bogey on the 72nd hole, to place him tied for third, was sad. But if you saw that swing with his driver, you might have thought it was going to happen. Pereira has an unusual swing in which he punches everything, like a boxer. He increases both his wrist cock and body angle most dramatically on his downswing so that when his club strikes the ball, his neck, which is the fulcrum of the golf swing, is about one foot lower and farther from his target than it was at address, and his hands are ahead of the club head at impact, thus de-lofting the club face.
But the most noticeable thing about Pereira’s driver swing is that he stops the club head abruptly on the upswing, which I call a “punch.” On his drive on the 18th hole today, he did that even more than he usually does, and it caused his ball to go to the right and in the creek. With his one-stroke lead, standing on that 18th tee, if I would have been his caddy I would have tried to convince him to hit his three wood instead of his driver. But he had hit his driver well there the day before, so he must have felt more confident trying it again. But the three metal-wood would have been the safer play.
It was another exciting, major championship in golf. The next major is the U.S. Open scheduled for next month at the historic The Country Club at Brookline, Mass.