PGA Championship: Justin Thomas holds nerve to claim two-shot win
By Keith Jackson
Last Updated: 14/08/17 10:31am
Justin Thomas ended a dramatic final day of the 99th PGA Championship as a major champion as his impressive composure down the stretch earned him a two-shot victory at Quail Hollow.
Thomas was one of five players tied for the lead midway through the round, but he broke clear of the pack as his rivals faltered and, after a pivotal chip-in for birdie at the 13th, he went two clear of long-time leader Kevin Kisner with a brilliant two at the tough 17th.
Hideki Matsuyama looked on course to become the first male Japanese major champion until he made three consecutive bogeys on the back nine, while overnight leader Kisner and playing-partner Chris Stroud made bad mistakes at crucial times.
Late challenges from Patrick Reed and Francesco Molinari came up short as the infamous "Green Mile" again claimed a number of victims, and Thomas had the luxury of needing only a bogey at the last to secure the title with a closing 68 for a winning score of eight under par.
Thomas appeared to be too far back to challenge when he bogeyed two of the first three holes either side of a birdie at the second, but he got back on track with a birdie at the long seventh and got under par for the day when he holed a huge-breaking 35-foot putt for birdie at the ninth.
He enjoyed two slices of good fortune at the 10th when, after his pulled drive cannoned off a tree and back into the middle of the fairway, his birdie putt from the rear of the green moments later hung on the lip before dropping as he headed towards his ball to tap in.
Thomas gets lucky at 10
Justin Thomas enjoyed two huge breaks as he made a crucial birdie after the turn
The young American atoned for a blocked tee shot to the 13th with a sublime pitch-in for an unlikely two which gave him the outright lead, which he preserved with a clutch up-and-down from sand to salvage a battling par at 16 before he knocked a bold tee shot to 15 feet at the penultimate hole.
Thomas got the putt to drop in the side of the hole, although he did not make it easy for himself at the last as he pushed his drive into the thick rough and could not reach the putting surface with his second, but he pitched safely to the heart of the green and two-putted for bogey safe in the knowledge that he had enough of an advantage over the final group.
Kisner needed to hole his second shot to the 18th to force a play-off, but he tugged it into the creek and Thomas was left to celebrate his major breakthrough and another moment to savour in a memorable 2017, which began with two wins in Hawaii and included a sensational round of 59 at the Sony Open.
Last week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational champion Matsuyama started the day as the favourite as he trailed by only one over night, and he hit back from an early blemish at the second with birdies at the sixth and seventh before reaching the turn at seven under.
He led outright after a nice up-and-down for birdie at the 10th, but he missed the green from 150 yards at the next, chipped four feet past the pin and missed the par putt. The world No 3 then airmailed the 12th green and fluffed his first pitch before doing well to get down in two and limit the damage to a five.
But Matsuyama suffered another setback when he bogeyed the short 13th, but he then hauled himself back into contention with valiant birdies at the next two holes, only to send his second to the 16th over the back of the green and card another bogey.
Matsuyama's race was run when he pulled his drive into the hazard at the last and the resulting five had him signing for a 72 which left him in a tie for fifth - three strokes behind the champion.
Molinari celebrated his best finish in a major championship and was among the five-way tie at the top when he chipped in at the 15th to make his fourth birdie in five holes, but the Italian dropped a shot at the next and parred home to card a 67 which earned him the clubhouse lead on six under.
Molinari soon had company in Patrick Reed, who continued his late-season resurgence with an entertaining 67 which featured four birdies and a pair of bogeys in a rollercoaster six-hole stretch on the front-nine, and he suddenly became a huge factor at the top of the leaderboard when he birdied 10, 14 and 15.
But the Ryder Cup star parred the next two and could not avoid his third dropped shot of the round at the last, while former Open champion Louis Oosthuizen was another to provide a late threat to Thomas when he chipped in for eagle at the 15th to get within one of the lead.
The South African bogeyed the next, although he ensured a share of second - and his fourth runner-up finish in a major, with a monster 50-foot putt for birdie at the last to cap a 70.
Rickie Fowler gave his legion of fans plenty to cheer when he reeled off four consecutive birdies on the back nine to give himself an outside chance of victory, but pars at the last three holes left him settling for a 67 and five under for the tournament.
As for Kisner, he looked a forlorn figure after an erratic back nine which began with a birdie at 10 followed by back-to-back bogeys, although he lifted himself back into the shake-up with birdies at 14 and 15.
But another dropped shot at 16 as Thomas birdied 17 effectively ended Kisner's hopes, and his visit to the water at the last resulted in a double-bogey six which dropped him to four under alongside Canadian Graham DeLaet, who closed with a 69.