Monday 19 March 2018

Young gun Thomas outlasts PGA rivals on day of drama to join Major elite

Justin Thomas hoisting the giant Wanamaker Trophy aloft. Photo: Getty Images
Justin Thomas hoisting the giant Wanamaker Trophy aloft. Photo: Getty Images

Brian Keogh

Kentucky's Justin Thomas galloped to his maiden Major victory at the US PGA after a thrilling final day that had more ups and downs than the Aintree Grand National.

After the gruelling slog of the first three days, softer conditions and friendlier pin positions transformed Quail Hollow from a theatre of pain into a five-ringed circus with 24-year-old thoroughbred Thomas hoisting the giant Wanamaker Trophy aloft.

A former team-mate of Dublin's Gavin Moynihan at the University of the Alabama, he closed with a bogey for a three-under-par 68 and a two-shot win over Italy's Francesco Molinari, fellow American Patrick Reed and South Africa's Louis Oosthuizen on eight-under par.

Overnight leader Kevin Kisner needed an eagle two at the 18th to force a three-hole playoff but tugged his approach into the creek, finishing with a double-bogey for a 74 and a share of seventh with Graham DeLaet on four-under.

It was a final day to remember as Molinari shot a 67 to set the target at six-under par before being joined on that mark by Reed, who also shot 67, and then by Oosthuizen, who holed a 53-footer on the last for a 70.

Thomas was two ahead playing the 221-yard 17th but he rifled his tee shot to 15 feet and rolled in the birdie putt to take a three-shot lead to the last.

In the end, he hit his tee-shot into a fairway bunker, but found the green in three and two-putted from 28 feet to become the eighth first-time winner in the last nine Majors. There were as many as five players tied for the lead on seven-under par early on the back nine as Thomas joined Kisner, Chris Stroud, Hideki Matsuyama and Molinari on seven-under par.

Slowly they all fell away as Major pressure, Quail Hollow's deep rough and the three-hole finishing stretch they call the 'Green Mile' claimed its victims.

Thomas (24) began the day two shots off the pace on five-under, made two bogeys and three birdies to turn at six-under before watching an eight-footer at the 10th stop on the lip and teeter there for nearly 10 seconds before toppling in for a birdie

The Kentucky star won three PGA Tour events in his first five starts this season before shooting 59 in the Sony Open and a nine-under 63 in the third round of the US Open at Erin Hills to go into the final round just a shot off the leader before fading to tied ninth after a 75. This time, he didn't falter.

After chipping in for a birdie two from the fringe at the 13th to move a shot clear on eight-under par, Matsuyama dropped his third shot in row there to fall back to five-under.

Bidding to become the first male Japanese player to win a Major, the 25-year old world No 3 then birdied the 14th and 15th to get back within one but overshot the 16th and bogeyed, eventually carding a 72 to tied for fifth with Rickie Fowler.

The son and grandson of PGA professionals, an emotional Thomas stood next to the PGA of America officials and said: "I'm proud. I wish my grandpa could be here for it. It's just so special to get it done with three generations of PGA members. I'm just glad we have a trophy now."

Reflecting on the key to overcoming his final round failure in the US Open at Erin Hills, he said: "Just patience. I felt at the US Open that while Brooks [Koepka] had an unbelievable final round and I didn't have my best stuff that day, I needed to be a bit more patient. You play to win, and I had an opportunity to win today, but I knew that no matter where my game was at today, I just needed to be patient."

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