PGA Championship 2017: Justin Thomas produced great play under pressure to clinch first Major title

The moment of the 99th PGA Championship was probably when Jutsin Thomas’ putt dropped into the cup after the ball seemingly hung on the lip for an eternity. And when it did drop, Thomas did not even see it for he had turned his back on it in disbelief that it had not dropped.

The ball was suspended between the cup and lip for almost 12 seconds and then it dropped. Minutes before that he pulled his drive and it hit the same tree he had found two days ago in second ago. Then the ball kicked into the trees some 30 yards.

Justin Thomas celebrates with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2017 PGA Championship. Reuters

Justin Thomas celebrates with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2017 PGA Championship. Reuters

As the 24-year-old Thomas said, “So I feel like that tree kind of owed me one. I talk to my ball a lot and any time it's going somewhere, I didn't wish it would, I probably say, "get lucky" or something. And I said that in the air, "Get lucky, just spit it out for me, please." And it spit it out, and right in the middle of the fairway.”

Then came ‘that’ putt. Recalling that moment, Thomas said, “The putt was pretty funny, too, because I didn't even see it go in. I was more so looking at Jimmy, asking, "How does it not go in? And as soft as it was going, I felt like the grain had to take it. And honestly, I swear, when it got there, I was like, "This ball has to go in. There's no way that it can stay there." I was upset that I had a really easy up-and-down and maybe let the opportunity go. Yeah, the gravity took over and the roar was pretty loud, so that was pretty cool.”

Thomas carded a final round of 68 to total 8-under and win the Wanamaker Trophy by two shots over Patrick Reed (67), Francesco Molinari (67) and Louis Oosthuizen (70), while Hideki Matsuyama (72) and Rickie Fowler (67) were tied-fifth at 5-under.

Kevin Kisner (74), who held at least a share of the lead for 63 holes, and Graham Delaet (69) were tied-7th at 4-under.

It was as if the golfing gods wanted Thomas to win and that well may have been the moment he won the Wanamaker Trophy. The birdie on 10th took Thomas to 7-under and for a few moments Thomas was the sole leader, as Kisner, who held at least a share of the lead since close of play on Thursday, had dropped one on the seventh to fall to 6-under. Minutes later Kisner was back in shared lead with a birdie on 10th.

From there on Thomas did not let go, while Kisner disintegrated. Thomas birdied 13th and then 17th, while Kisner bogeyed 11th and 12th but he made up again with birdies on 14th and 15th, but threw it away one final time with a bogey on 16th. By the time Kisner came to 18th, Thomas was in the clubhouse at eight-under and Kisner needed an eagle two. But instead he went into the creek and came out with a double bogey and slipped to Tied-7th.

But Sunday was not all about Thomas and Kisner. At one point five players held a share of the lead. Reed, Molinari, Oosthuizen, Matsuyama and even Fowler all had their chances, but it was Thomas who got the job done.

Reed, who has never had a Major Top-10 before, had four birdies on front-nine and kept steady till a bogey on 18th dropped him two strokes off the lead and it stayed that way.

Molinari, whose game showed a wild swing with 73-64 for first two rounds and  then it was 74-67 in last two round. His bogey on 16th on Sunday may have been the final error, which saw the Major slip by.

Oosthuizen’s eagle on 15 brought him into the picture and it was boosted by the long birdie on 18th. Maybe it was the bogey on 16th that cost him a chance to have a shy at another Major.

No one must have more than Matsuyama. His back-nine had just one par – on the 17th. He was in the picture and then faded away with three bogeys and came back yet again with birdies on 14th and 15th, before going out of contention yet again with bogeys on 16th and 18th.

Matsuyama had three pars and four bogeys over a seven-hole stretch before a par at 17 and then a bogey on the final hole.

Fowler had one of the best rounds of the day with a 67, but his hot streak of four birdies in a row came a bit too late and he also needed others to drop a few more, but that did not happen.

Kisner held the lead for most of the tournament and started the day at 7-under, but he started breaking down on the back-nine. Three birdies did keep him there but there were three bogeys, too. And the final chase, though too late, ended in a double bogey.

So, who is Justin Thomas?

Thomas is a friend of Jordan Spieth and Fowler, and both were there on the sidelines, watching their buddy pick up his first Major and the fourth win of this year.

On Sunday, Spieth and Fowler were there to congratulate him first. But three weeks ago, when Spieth, about three months younger than Thomas, was winning the Claret Jug in Birkdale, Thomas was at hand alongside Fowler; Fowler's girlfriend, Allison Stokke; Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, where the PGA Championship was held in 2014 and won by Rory McIlroy, Thomas played the Wyndham Championship on PGA Tour in August 2009 and became the third youngest to make the cut in a PGA Tour event at just over 16 years.

Thomas' father Mike was once a starter at the PGA Championship. He was the man who inspired his golf, but neither remembers when it was the first time that Thomas beat his father. “It ought to have been a big thing, but funnily neither of us remember when it was,” recalled Thomas. This Sunday, Mike was the on the course walking and watching his won finish a job and get a Major of his own.

Thomas may have been overshadowed by his friend Spieth and the flashier Fowler, who has yet to win a Major, but he was always marked out for great things. He was a star even in his junior days, and won American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) title three times and was a Junior All-American twice. At Alabama, he did well and picked a lot of honours.

When he came to pro golf, there was a lot of pressure, but came through as he won on Web.com Tour in 2014 and moved to the PGA Tour and early in his second season he won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia in November 2015. The event is the only event co-sanctioned by Asian and PGA Tours.

It was in 2016-17 that he finally made his presence felt. He won a second CIMB Classic, coming from behind, as India’s Anirban Lahiri came into the final round with a four shot lead and ended T-3rd. The Thomas added the Hawaiian double and that included a 59 at Sony Open.

In June at the US Open, he shot a 63 in the third round and went in the final pairing at Erin Hills, but a 75 meant he was only ninth. But now he has a Major. Four of his five wins have come this season and surely he will be the favourite at the FedExCup Playoffs.


Published Date: Aug 14, 2017 04:09 pm | Updated Date: Aug 14, 2017 04:09 pm


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