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Justin Thomas Wins the P.G.A. Championship With a Roaring Comeback

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TULSA, Okla. — The dominant story line before the 2022 P.G.A. Championship revolved around Phil Mickelson, who became the oldest major champion last yr when he won the event at age 50 but selected to not defend his title. Then the main target of the tournament shifted to Tiger Woods, 46, who arrived on the Southern Hills Country Club to resume his stirring comeback from injuries he sustained in a horrific automobile crash 15 months ago. But Woods struggled physically, and mired in last place after three rounds, he withdrew before Sunday’s final round.

What evolved as a substitute on the last day of the P.G.A. Championship was a glimpse of elite men’s golf’s youthful future, not its aging past. On a nervy, topsy-turvy afternoon in eastern Oklahoma, there was yet one more dramatic showdown between the dazzling, hard-swinging 20-somethings who’ve overtaken the sport.

In a taut, three-hole aggregate playoff after the 18-hole fourth round led to a tie, Justin Thomas, 29, held off the 25-year-old rising star Will Zalatoris to win his second P.G.A. Championship. The last 4 winners of golf’s major championships, Thomas; Scottie Scheffler, on the Masters; Collin Morikawa, on the British Open; and Jon Rahm, the reigning U.S. Open champion, are of their 20s.

Even in defeat, Zalatoris briefly laughed as he assessed how his generation had develop into dominant so quickly.

“I sort of have to envision myself sometimes because I feel like I’m playing junior golf and college golf all once again,” Zalatoris said, mentioning his longtime rivals Scheffler, Thomas and Mito Pereira, 27, who held the lead for a lot of the fourth round. “We’ve been playing together for nearly 10 years. Now we’re at the very best level of golf.”

Thomas, who began the ultimate round seven strokes off the lead, didn’t figure to be celebrating a victory after his first eight holes Sunday when he was one over par. His final-round rally tied for the third-largest comeback in major championship history.

“It was a bizarre day, little doubt,” Thomas, who also won the 2017 P.G.A. Championship, said. “But I said in a news conference before the primary round that no lead can be secure here — an excessive amount of wind and too many scary holes.”

Pereira, the third-round leader, had appeared poised to develop into the primary golfer from Chile to win a significant golf championship. Stepping to the 18th tee Sunday evening, he was playing in the ultimate group and needed only a par to clinch the title.

But Pereira, playing in only his second major championship, sliced his tee shot right into a small creek adjoining to the golf green. After a penalty shot drop from the water, Pereira’s approach shot found the thick rough alongside the green. His chip from there trundled far across the green until it stopped in the perimeter on the alternative side of the green. Pereira made double bogey, and finished in a tie for third place with the American Cameron Young, a school teammate of Zalatoris’s after they were at Wake Forest.

“It’s such a stressful situation,” Pereira said of the atmosphere on the 18th tee. “But I didn’t feel any more nervous than other shots today. I wasn’t even pondering of the water. But, you recognize, I wish I could do it again.”

The playoff ended a streak of 19 consecutive majors, dating to the 2017 Masters, that didn’t require extra holes to make a decision the final result.

Thomas and Zalatoris began the playoff with birdies on the primary hole, the thirteenth. On the reachable par-4, 302-yard seventeenth hole, Thomas drove the green and had a lengthy putt for eagle that got here up 3 feet short. Zalatoris’s drive on the seventeenth hole was just off the green, and his flop shot stopped 8 feet from the opening. His birdie putt skidded past the opening, and Zalatoris tapped in for par.

With the prospect to seize the advantage, Thomas rattled in his birdie putt for a one-stroke edge heading into the third playoff hole, the 18th.

Each golfers reached the 18th green in two shots. Zalatoris couldn’t covert a birdie putt, and Thomas needed only two putts for a par that clinched the championship.

For Zalatoris, it was his latest close call in a significant. He finished second ultimately yr’s Masters and was tied for sixth at that event last month. He was tied for eighth on the 2021 P.G.A. Championship and tied for sixth on the 2020 U.S. Open.

But on Sunday, Zalatoris, after an even-par front nine, was hampered by poor putting, which has plagued him all season. He bogeyed the twelfth and sixteenth holes but rallied by draining an 8-foot birdie putt on the seventeenth hole. He also sank a 10-foot putt to save lots of par at the ultimate hole to shoot 71 for the ultimate round and finish at five under par overall. On the time, though, it didn’t seem like enough to catch Pereira.

Thomas more than likely finished his round with the identical feeling. After his rough begin to the day, he birdied the ninth hole and had a par on the tenth. Thomas then sank a 64-foot putt from just off the eleventh hole for an additional birdie. On the par-4 twelfth, he sank an 18-foot birdie putt. Thomas missed consecutive manageable birdie putts on the thirteenth and 14th holes, but then splashed a shot from a greenside bunker on the par-4 seventeenth hole to inside 3 feet, a distance he successfully negotiated for his fifth birdie of the day. That may put him inside one stroke of Pereira with one hole to play. An excellent drive and courageous approach shot to the elevated 18th green stopped 11 feet behind the opening, but Thomas’s putt slid past the fitting edge for a par and a rating of 67.

“I used to be very calm within the playoff and really calm in the ultimate holes before the playoff, which helped quite a bit,” Thomas said. “I used to be nervous, nevertheless it was a distinct sort of nervous, which possibly comes with experience. It was different than how I felt attempting to win my first major in 2017. Whatever it was, it felt right.

“To execute a few of those tough shots when you actually need to, it was full body chills.”

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