It’s hard to feel like it’s been a long time coming for a 24-year-old to win a major championship. But, maybe, somehow it does. Justin Thomas is a major champion.
Thomas held off Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama, and a host of others at Quail Hollow to take home the 99th PGA Championship. The 24-year-old Kentuckian fired a final round 3-under-par 68 to take home his first major championship and immediately vault his name alongside good friend Jordan Spieth into American golf superstardom.
But for a week that started with a whimper, what a wild Sunday it was in Charlotte.
Thomas started Sunday two behind overnight leader Kevin Kisner and one back of Chris Stroud and Matsuyama, and stumbled for a second out of the gate -- at one point four shots off Matsuyama’s lead on the front nine. Then, things got, uh, crazy.
Birdies at the 7th and 9th pulled Thomas back near Matsuyama’s solo lead. Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed, and Rickie Fowler all began surging from well ahead of the leaders on the course. This putt for birdie on the 10th set off roars throughout the golf course after languishing on the lip for what seemed to be ages.
At that point, we were left with a five-way tie for the lead on the back nine of a major championship. But that wouldn’t last either. Within what seemed like minutes of our traffic jam at the top, Kisner, Stroud, Molinari, and Matsuyama made bogeys at their varying points on Quail’s back nine to give Thomas the solo lead in a major championship at 7-under-par.
More magic on the 13th put him two shots clear with only a few holes to the finish.
Kisner surged back to within one, but this MASSIVE birdie at the 17th would give Thomas a two-shot lead to walk the 18th with Kisner still to come behind him. That’d be enough for the victory.
Here are three quick takeaway’s from JT’s first major title.
Meet your newest American golf superstar.
Tiger — and even Jordan Spieth — have desensitized us to young American golf stardom. At just 24 years old, Justin Thomas is a major champion, will jump into the top 10 in the world, and will likely be a stalwart on the Ryder Cup team for years to come. He’ll be a new face of American golf, and you could do a heck of a lot worse.
Thomas is thoughtful and affable off the course — and electric on it. Few guys who aren’t much more than 150 pounds can carry drives 340-some yards, and watching a dude that small make a ball go that far is something amazing. I had a front row seat for his 63 at the U.S. Open this year, and he plays a modern brand of golf that’s aesthetically pleasing in every way. Thomas is the mid-2000s Big 12 distilled into a PGA Tour player. Sure, it’s perhaps gonna go a little wild sometimes, but it’s fun as hell and there’s gonna be lots of yards through the air.
We’re going to be able to enjoy that for a long, long time — and if we’re lucky it’ll beget golf’s next great American rivalry with his good buddy Jordan.
Hideki comes up short once again. Ugh.
If we were going to anoint another superstar today, it seemed certain that star was going to be from Japan rather than Kentucky. Thomas had an excellent 2017, but Hideki Matsuyama might have been one of the few who had a better season. After his tour de force at Firestone, a top-three world ranking, and a solid opening three rounds that had him just one back of Kevin Kisner’s lead to start the day, you’d be forgiven if you thought Hideki would be the attraction in the Matsuyama-Thomas pairing.
And early, you were right. After an early Kisner stumble, Matsuyama became the first to pull ahead. But as Thomas surged toward the end of the outward nine and down the stretch, it’s difficult to ignore how the Japanese star seemed to struggle in the moment.
Hideki’s going to likely be a favorite in majors for years to come as well, but there’s no doubt this one will be on his mind until he finally reels that first big title in.
But, the biggest news of the day, perhaps.
PATRICK REED FINISHED IN THE TOP 10 OF A DANG MAJOR
One of golf’s weirdest facts is no more. Reed’s reputation as a star in team & match play formats is well-known and well-deserved, but he’d never been able to propel that success into a high finish in a major championship. After the round of the day today at Quail Hollow, he’ll finish T-2 in Charlotte. Finally!