Thomas ral­lies to win PGA ti­tle

Surges on back nine for 1st ma­jor

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. | Justin Thomas emerged from the shadow of a long­time friend and won the PGA Cham­pi­onship to take his place among the young elite in golf.

With two big breaks to start the back nine, a chip-in for birdie to seize con­trol and a timely 7-iron that soared over the wa­ter to a penin­sula green, Thomas closed with a 3-un­der 68 for a two-shot vic­tory.

The PGA Cham­pi­onship was the most fit­ting ma­jor for the 24-year-old son of a PGA pro­fes­sional. Mike Thomas, a former PGA board mem­ber and long­time pro at Har­mony Land­ing out­side Louisville, Ken­tucky, walked along the edge of the 18th green and into the arms of his son, a ma­jor cham­pion.

The week be­gan with Jor­dan Spi­eth’s quest for a ca­reer Grand Slam. Spi­eth was at the 18th green late Sun­day af­ter­noon at Quail Hol­low, but only so he could cel­e­brate the mo­ment with Thomas, close friends since they were 14.

“So awe­some, dude,” Spi­eth told him. Thomas was ev­ery bit of that. With five play­ers still in the mix on the back nine, Thomas surged ahead by chip­ping in from 40 feet on the par-3 13th hole, and hold­ing his nerve down the stretch as his chal­lengers even­tu­ally faded, one after an­other.

Hideki Mat­suyama, bid­ding to be­come the first player from Ja­pan to win a ma­jor, re­cov­ered from back-to-back bo­geys with birdies on the 14th and 15th holes to get within one shot. But the cham­pi­onship turned on the 16th hole.

Thomas faced a 6-foot par putt to stay

at 8 un­der. Mat­suyama caught a good lie over the green and chipped to 5 feet. Thomas wasted no time over the putt and drilled it in the cen­ter of cup. Mat­suyama missed and was two shots be­hind.

“The last ma­jor of the year, and I was in con­tention,” said Mat­suyama, a run­ner-up at the U.S. Open. “All I can do is try harder next time.”

Thomas sealed it with a 7-iron from 221 yards, so pure that he let the club twirl through his hands as he watched it clear the wa­ter and roll out to 15 feet. The birdie putt curled in and his lead was up to three going to the 18th. A fi­nal bo­gey only af­fected the score.

Thomas fin­ished at 8-un­der 276 for his fourth vic­tory of the year.

The PGA has been part of the Thomas fam­ily for three gen­er­a­tions. Paul Thomas, his grand­fa­ther, was the long­time pro at Zanesville Coun­try Club in Ohio who played in the 1962 U.S. Open. His fa­ther played at More­head State and had aspirations of play­ing the tour that didn’t last long. In­stead, Mike Thomas be­came a club pro who watched his son fall in love with the game and grow into a force on the PGA Tour.

“I can’t put it into words,” Thomas said about his PGA of America her­itage. “I wish my grandpa could be here for it. It’s so spe­cial to get it done. I’ve glad we have a tro­phy now.”

Kevin Kis­ner was the last one who had a chance to catch him. But he three­p­utted from 100 feet on the 16th for bo­gey, couldn’t birdie the 17th from long range and hit his se­cond shot into the wa­ter and fin­ished with a dou­ble bo­gey. Kis­ner, the 54-hole leader, played the fi­nal three holes in 6 over on the week­end. He closed with a 74.

“That’s not going to be fun to look at,” he said of his week­end finish over the bru­tal clos­ing stretch at Quail Hol­low. “I thought I had to get to 10 (un­der) starting the day to win, and that was about right. I had ev­ery opportunity. I just didn’t finish it off.”

Mat­suyama also hit into the wa­ter on No. 18 and made bo­gey for a 72 to finish three back.

Louis Oosthuizen (70), Pa­trick Reed (67) and Francesco Moli­nari (67) tied for se­cond, though none had a chance to win play­ing the 18th. Oosthuizen holed a 50-foot birdie putt on the 18th to get a run­ner-up finish in the ma­jors for the fourth time.

For Reed, it was his first top 10 in a ma­jor.

Just two months ago, fresh off a record-ty­ing 63 in the U.S. Open to get in the fi­nal group at Erin Hills, Thomas strug­gled from the start and shot 75. He started this fi­nal round two shots be­hind, skulled a bunker shot on the first hole and had to make a 15-foot putt to avoid dou­ble bo­gey.

He missed a short par putt on No. 3, and that was the last mis­take he made un­til it no longer mat­tered.

Thomas be­gan his move with a 35-foot birdie putt on No. 9, and then caught two breaks on the par-5 10th. His tee shot sailed left into a tree and bounced out into the fair­way. Then, his 8-foot birdie putt hung on the left edge of the cup. Thomas smiled and lazily turned away, and a few sec­onds later as he looked back to­ward the hole, grav­ity took over and the ball dropped into the cup.

He had a chance for a knock­out un­til fail­ing to birdie the two eas­i­est holes on the back nine, only to make up for it with the tough bunker shot on the 16th that led to his clutch par, and a 7-iron that made him a ma­jor cham­pion.

He gets re­ferred to end­lessly as Spi­eth’s best friend be­cause Spi­eth, who is 3 months younger, has done so much so quickly. Their friend­ship dates to France when they rep­re­sented the U.S. in the Evian Ju­nior Masters. Thomas won that 36-hole event.

Ten years later, they have won con­sec­u­tive ma­jors and head into the FedEx Cup play­offs bat­tling for PGA Tour player of the year.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Justin Thomas cel­e­brates after win­ning the PGA Cham­pi­onship on Sun­day with a three-un­der 68 and two-shot vic­tory.

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