There has been recent talk that Justin Thomas peaked too early this year.
Many thought that the 24-year-old could not beat what he had already accomplished this season: winning three tournaments, carding a 59 at a January event, and shooting a record-setting nine-under 63 in round three of the U.S. Open. To those people, Thomas said, “Hold my beer.”
With a final round 68, highlighted by a tenacious birdie on the 71st hole, part of Quail Hollow’s notorious “Green Mile” that obliterated the chances of many, Thomas reached 8-under and won the PGA Championship by two strokes over Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed, and Louis Oosthuizen.
Thomas, the son and grandson of PGA professionals, took his very appropriate first career major in thrilling fashion, using a near flawless back-nine to emerge from a prodigious logjam that, at one point late, included five co-leaders.
Thomas’s victory in the final major of the season was accompanied by some legendary moments, but most notably a cliff-hanger of a putt on No. 10 that fell in the cup after a long wait on the lip; a chip-in birdie on the 13th; and a pristine tee shot on the 17 that basically sealed the deal.
It was an incredible end to an unforgettable 2017 major season.
1 Justin Thomas -8
T2 Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen -6
T5 Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsyama -5
T7 Graham DeLaet, Kevin Kisner -4
T9 Jordan Smith, Matt Kuchar, Jason Day, Chris Stroud -1
T13 Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey E
T22 Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter +1
T28 Jordan Spieth, J.B. Holmes +2
T33 Webb Simpson, Keegan Bradley +3
T48 Charley Hoffman, Zach Johnson +5
T58 Jon Rahm +7
T61 Adam Scott, Tommy Fleetwood +8
66 Vijay Singh +10
T67 Lee Westwood, Alex Noren +11
How Thomas Did It
Despite three victories on the season, Thomas was largely overlooked this week, but that was for a reason.
The most recent of those three wins was in mid-January, and he has not been in top form since his awe-inspiring third round 63 at Erin Hills. He shot a disappointing final round 75 in that tournament, and then followed it up by missing three cuts, and then finishing T28 in last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, a no-cut event.
A first round 73 at Quail Hollow got his championship off to an unimpressive start, but after a second round 66 and a third round 69, Thomas was suddenly back in the mix and feeling good going into Sunday.
It was very appropriate that he was in the penultimate pairing with Hideki Matsuyama at the year’s last major, as the two had seemingly alternated the spotlight every week in the early months of the season.
Thomas, two strokes behind 54-hole leader Kevin Kisner at the beginning of the day, showed some early nerves with a tumultuous bogey-birdie-bogey start to his final round, but from there on, it was largely smooth sailing.
Thomas birdied 7 and 9 to make the turn in 1-under, and then had what was unequivocally a major championship caliber back-nine.
His aforementioned “will it, won’t it?” birdie putt on No. 10 will be seen in highlights for years to come.
Thomas became a co-leader after his chip-in birdie on 13, and took solo-first soon after, as his closest competitors started dropping shots.
It more or less became “his” tournament, when he saved par on the 16th hole, the first of the “Green Mile,” coupled with a Matsuyama bogey on the same hole, bumped Thomas from the pack with two to go.
He then put emphasis on his round with a 17th hole tee-shot that landed 15-feet from the hole, and led to a rare Green Mile birdie. Coupled with a Kisner bogey on 16, Thomas stood on the 18th tee box with a three shot lead, and by grinding out a tough bogey 5, Thomas eliminated everyone except for Kisner, who needed to finish birdie-birdie to tie, but the 18, 36, and 54 hole leader finished par-double.
What It Means For Thomas
By taking the year’s final major, a legacy-creating win, Thomas joins an incredible list of 2017 big-stage winners, and takes lead position in the quest to be named PGA Tour Player of the Year heading into the FedEx Cup playoffs.
It also gives validation to a season that had stalled out after an absurdly hot start. Thomas becomes the fourth player to win the PGA Championship at 24 years of age or younger, and takes a clear place among the vanguard of the Tour’s youth movement, which should create a lot of excitement going forward.
Other Great Sundays
The 2017 major season has come and gone with Rickie Fowler not able to capture No. 1, but he made an impressive run at it late on Sunday.
Starting the day in a tie for 12th, six strokes behind Kevin Kisner, Fowler suddenly became relevant on the back nine with four consecutive birdies from 12 through 15 and then parred out the Green Mile to shoot 4-under 67, which tied for the low round of the final day, and take the clubhouse lead at -5.
He was later passed by four players, but it was a very encouraging end for the popular 28-year-old who will likely be on luggage-carrying duty at #SB2K18.
Among those matching Fowler’s 67 was Francesco Molinari, who also got on the late birdie train by carding 1-under par on 11, 12, 14, and 15.
He had not shot worse than par on any Green Mile hole in the first three rounds, but bogey No. 1 came at an inopportune time: the 16th hole. A par-par finish put Molinari in the clubhouse at 6-under, eliminating Fowler.
Patrick Reed also shot a 67, which made him a runner-up and a first career top 10 in a major. A bogey on 18, however, took a little of the late pressure off of Thomas.
The other two 67s came early in the day from Marc Leishman and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.
Not Their Sunday
Hideki Matsuyama looked unstoppable in winning last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, especially in posting a final round 61, and continued his hot play through the first two rounds at Quail Hollow as he tied Kisner for the 36-hole lead.
A mediocre round three 74 was surprising, but the 25-year-old from Japan was just one stroke back going into the final round, and was largely considered the favorite to capture the Wanamaker at that point.
Matsuyama, a three-time winner on the season himself, reached -2 for the day by the 10th hole and briefly held the solo-lead. He then bogeyed 11, 12, and 13, but immediately bounced back with birdies on 14 and 15 to storm back into the picture.
However, he became yet another Green Mile victim, with bogeys on 16 and 18 to shoot 1-over 72 and finish in a tie for fifth place.
Kevin Kisner’s final round 3-over 74 is a little bit misleading, as he was forced to take chances on the 18th hole, which he carded a double on, but it was still a poor finish from the man who made himself known on the major stage for the first time this week.
Like Matsuyama, Kisner also birdied 14 and 15 to jump back into the leader mix after briefly falling out, but the 33-year-old from South Carolina was unable to make the shots he needed to over the final three holes, and ended up finishing the tournament in a tie for 7th.
Chris Stroud was a surprise member of the final pairing, but the 203rd ranked golfer in the world was unable to pull off the upset, playing the Green Mile double bogey, bogey, bogey to shoot 5-over 76, and finish in a tie for ninth place.
Overall, it was still a very encouraging week for Stroud, who did not make the field until winning last week’s opposite field event, the Barracuda Championship.
Grand Slam Update
Tiger Woods can now breathe. With Jordan Spieth finishing in a tie for 28th, Tiger will keep the record of being the youngest ever to win the Grand Slam (24 years, six months) for the foreseeable future.
There is not a single player who even has one major that can mathematically catch Tiger. Spieth finished with a final round 1-under 70, which included a 3-under back nine.
One player who did complete a Grand Slam of sorts was Louis Oosthuizen. With a final round 70 of his own, the South African Oosthuizen finished runner-up, which he has now done in all four majors. His one career major victory came at the 2010 Open Championship.
“It was a crazy day. It had to be an unbelievable watching day in terms of spectating and watching at home on TV, walking up to the 12th green, I think there were five of us at -7, and I had no idea I was that close. To see that was kind of crazy, and then with that chip in on 13 was probably the most berserk I’ve ever gone on the golf course. I’m interesting to see how I looked for that.”
–Justin Thomas, PGA Champion