Back-nine birdies lift Justin Thomas to tense US PGA Championship title in shoot-out
American secures a two-stroke victory over South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and fellow American Patrick Reed
Justin Thomas made two spectacular birdies in the final six holes Sunday to win the US PGA Championship, the 14th-ranked American taking his first major title in a back-nine shoot-out thriller.
On a day that saw five players share the lead at one stage, Thomas fired a three-under par 68 to finish 72 holes on eight-under par 276 for a two-stroke victory over South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and American Patrick Reed.
“I knew know matter what my game was at I had to be patient,” Thomas said. “I knew I had the game to get it done. I just had to put it out there.”
Thomas rolled in an amazing 40-foot chip shot at the par-3 13th for a two-stroke lead and curled a 14-foot putt into the left side of the cup to birdie the par-3 17th for a three-shot edge, making a closing bogey all-but irrelevant.
“To make a birdie there was beyond a bonus,” Thomas said of 17. “And 13 was really special as well.”
Thomas, 24, claimed the Wanamaker Trophy and grabs the top prize of US$1.89 million (HK$14.8 million) for his fourth victory of the season after last year’s CIMB Classic in Malaysia and two January events in Hawaii, the Tournament of Champions and Sony Open.
World number three Hideki Matsuyama, trying to become the first Japanese men’s major golf champion, led at the turn but had five bogeys and three birdies on the back nine to share fifth with US star Rickie Fowler on 279.
“The course played tough. The pins were receptive, though. I was just disappointed the way I played,” Matsuyama said.
“The last major of the year, and I was in contention. All I can do is just try harder next time.”
Canada’s Graham DeLaet and 54-hole leader Kevin Kisner were another shot back.
It was not a great start for Thomas, who sandwiched a birdie between two bogeys on the first three holes, but he bounced back with birdies at seven, nine and 10 – the last coming after his putt hung on the edge of the cup for nearly 10 seconds before falling in.
“It just kind of snuck up on the hole,” Thomas said. “It kind of acted like a child and threw a tantrum and then it went in.”
One by one, rivals fell aside, the last of them being compatriot Kisner, who had a 209-yard eagle longshot from the 18th fairway to force a play-off. It hooked left into a creek to end his major dream.
Matsuyama sank a 22-foot birdie putt at the par-5 10th but made bogeys on the next three holes, responded with two birdies, then missed a four-foot par putt to bogey 16 and closed with another to fall back.
Tension mounted as Matsuyama, Molinari, Kisner, Thomas and Stroud all shared the lead at seven-under at one stage.
Kisner lipped out a six-foot par putt at 11 to fall back, his first miss inside seven feet all week after 53 such putts.
Stroud missed from the same distance for par moments later, his first off-target putt from so close as well.
Molinari charged into the hunt with four birdies in a five-hole stretch ending at 15 but a bogey at 16 and two closing pars was not enough.
Reed, who made four birdies in five holes on the front nine, added another at 10 and birdied 14 and the par-5 15th to reach seven-under but a bogey at the last doomed his hopes.
Oosthuizen, the only major winner among the contenders after his 2010 British Open triumph, holed a spectacular 34-yard chip shot eagle at the par-5 15th but followed with a bogey to blunt the impact of his closing birdie.
The PGA is known for bringing first-time major success. Except for Rory McIlroy, the 2012 and 2014 champion, every PGA winner since 2008 has been a first-time major trophy-holder.
McIlroy fired a 68 to finish on 285, sharing 22nd, and said after his round that he has been nagged by back spasms and might not play again this season.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks time. It really depends.”