With his victory at Southern Hills, Justin Thomas Joined Elite Company
Justin Thomas joined the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson with his victory at Southern Hills
Justin Thomas never gave in.
Not when he had to battle a cold, allergies and his swing before the first round began. Not when he got the worst of the draw the first two days. Not when his putter let him down in thethird round. Not even when he hit a shank early in the final round.
And not when he faced a seven-shot deficit entering Sunday’s final 18 holes at Southern Hills Country Club. Make that the final 21 holes.
With help from Mito Pereira’s heartbreaking debacle on the 72nd hole, Thomas won the 2022 PGA Championship and hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy for a second time after defeating Will Zalatoris in a three-hole aggregate playoff.
The 2017 PGA champion came storming home with four birdies in his last 10 holes in regulation to sign for a 3-under-par 67 to reach 5 under, then birdied the first two extra holes—the par-5 13th and par-4 17th—and added a tap-in par on the par-4 final hole to defeat Zalatoris by one shot.
In a week that featured 90-degree heat and 50-degree chill, winds whipping off the plains and skies that were alternately gray and bright, Thomas matched the largest comeback in PGA history: John Mahaffey was seven shots back entering the final round before winning the 1978 PGA in a playoff against Tom Watson.
With his victory, Thomas joined Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Johnny Miller and Watson as the only players since World War II to win at least 15 PGA Tour titles and two majors before turning 30, a milestone he just reached in advance of this year’s PGA Championship title defense at Oak Hill.
It was Thomas’ first win since the 2021 Players Championship. And with it he became the first to win a major at Southern Hills in eight played there who did not hold at least a share of the 36-hole lead.
“It was a bizarre day,” said Thomas, who shot 67-67-74-67, immediately after finishing. “It hasn’t sunk in just yet. 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. I definitely crossed one off the list; I’ve never won a tournament shanking a ball on Sunday, so that was a first, and man, I would really like it to be a last.
“Bones (Jim Mackay, his caddie) did an unbelievable job of just keeping me in the moment. We just tried to play the golf course for what it is, and this place is so tough.
“It’s funny, I was asked earlier in the week about what lead is safe, and I said, ‘no lead.’ This place is so tough. But if you hit the fairways you can make birdies, and I stayed so patient, I just couldn’t believe I found myself in a playoff.”
The 104th edition of the PGA also will be remembered for the brutal ending to Pereira’s Cinderella story. Playing in just his second major and first PGA, Pereira took a 3-shot lead into the final round, led by two with four to play and led by one shot going to the final hole.
Trying to become the first from Chile to win a major and the first PGA Tour rookie to win the
PGA since Keegan Bradley in 2011, Pereira answered whenever he faced adversity in the final round and never relinquished the lead.
Until the final hole.
After leaving his birdie putt on the lip on the 17th, Pereira drilled his tee shot on 18 into a creek on the right side of the fairway. After a penalty drop, he hit his uphill third shot left of the green and needed three more to make a double-bogey 6 and miss the playoff by one.
In 15 minutes, he lost his grip on the Wanamaker, his place in history and his chance to add a PGA Tour title to his resume.
“Obviously sad to be here and not in the playoff,” Pereira said. “On 18, I wasn’t even thinking about the water. I just wanted to put it in play, and I guess I aimed too far right. I just hit in the water. It’s not how I wanted to end up this week, but really good result.
“Today I was really nervous. I tried to handle it a little bit but it’s really tough. I thought I was going to win on 18, but it is what it is. I thought I was nervous the first day. Then I thought I was nervous the second day. Then I thought I was nervous on the third day, but the fourth day was terrible. I mean, this morning was tough. I just played it through, and actually had a one-shot lead on 18 and that was pretty good and sad to hit it in the water. I wish I could do it again.”
Zalatoris, the 36-hole leader, made key eight-footers for birdie and par on the 71st and 72nd holes to finish with a 71 and earn a spot in the playoff. Looking for his first PGA Tour title, Zalatoris has now finished runner-up in two majors, having finished a stroke behind Hideki Matsuyama in the 2021 Masters. This marked his fifth top-10 in eight starts in majors.(The up-and-coming Texan is sidelined from this year’s event due to back surgery he underwent in April.)
“Pretty proud of the result that I had,” Zalatoris said. “I think (third-round 73) was really the day that, looking back on it, I was pretty frustrated with. The first nine holes, I thought was a really good experience, especially going forward. Especially after missing the cut last week, I’m obviously pretty proud to be sitting in this position considering Saturday; never thought I would have been standing here.
“Hats off to J.T. He’s been due for a while to get another win, let alone a major. So, excited for him.”
Pereira finished with a 75 and at 4 under. Joining Pereira was Cameron Young, who grabbed a share of the lead earlier in the round but a double-bogey 6 on the 70th hole did him in as he finished with a 71.
In a tie for fifth at 3 under were Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and Chris Kirk. Fitzpatrick, playing in the final group, was unsteady throughout his 73, while Fleetwood came home with 67 and Kirk a 68.
The 15-time major champion and four-time Wanamaker Trophy winner Tiger Woods withdrew hours after his third round. Woods shot his worst score—a 9-over-par 79—in his PGA Championship career. Woods clearly labored through the the second and third rounds, the right foot, ankle and leg that were severely damaged during a single-car rollover accident 15 months earlier causing him pain.
For Thomas, the win came with a little extra meaning: He is the son and grandson of two PGA Professionals, and his father, Mike, is also his PGA Coach.
“It’s very, very special. I’m pleased,” Thomas said. “At this point, any of them [major championships] is great; I don’t care which one it is. As Tom Brady always says, your favorite
Super Bowl is your next one, and that’s what my favorite major is. And at this moment, it’s definitely this guy right here [as he tapped the Wanamaker Trophy].
“I’m looking forward to talking to my grandma. I’m sure she was watching.
“I know somewhere up there, Grandpa was definitely watching today and pulling for me. It’s very, very cool to be able to share this moment with my family.”
Although not family, Woods is a very good friend of Thomas’. They needle each other, play practice rounds together, share golf wisdom. And now they’ve both won PGA Championships at Southern Hills, Woods’ coming in 2007.
“I think now I only have like 150 other things to do that he’s done to where he can stop giving me grief. So I guess it’s just a stepping stone,” Thomas said. “He’ll always find something to give me grief about.”
But Thomas will overcome it all, just as he crushed all the obstacles in front of him a year ago at Southern Hills.