They say the PGA Championship doesn’t start until a birdie hangs on the lip and drops for birdie on the ninth hole.
Okay, they don’t really say that. Sunday at Quail Hollow, though, they could have, after Justin Thomas lit up the rather ho-hum proceedings with a Tiger Woods/Masters 2005-like “In your life have you seen anything like that?” birdie.
For sure, if anyone were destined to win the final round, it had to be JT, who started Sunday’s final round two shots off Kevin Kisner’s 7-under lead, and came from behind to prevail — with the help of a friendly oak tree — by two strokes over Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed, and Louis Oosthuizen. The 2017 PGA winner’s final-round 3-under 68 was enough to make golf watchers wonder, Kevin Kisner who?
Kisner, the 18-, 36-, and 54-hole leader was seemingly on track for his first major title. After all, the two-time PGA Tour winner shared the frontrunner’s spot with Thorbjorn Olesen at 4-under after Thursday’s opening round, tied with Hideki Matsuyama after the second round, and owned a one-shot advantage over Matsuyama and Chris Stroud entering the final round.
It did not take long during Sunday’s finale, though, for Kisner to surrender the lead, which he did when Matsuyama made back-to-back birdies on holes six and seven to get back into a tie at the top of the leaderboard.
Then, after some indecision about clubs, Kisner chose a 3-iron and proceeded to splash his approach shot to the green on the seventh. He was not as fortunate on Sunday as he was in Saturday’s third round, when he missed the same green short and right, his ball landing in the hazard but dry. He managed to save par on moving day, but on Sunday he had to settle for a bogey— and the loss of the edge he had owned since the opening round.
As Kisner was drowning his ball, Matsuyama flew the green with his approach to the par-4 eighth with a gap wedge — a shot CBS commentator Dottie Pepper termed a “bad, bad miss” that left Kisner’s closest challenger in deep grass just above the green. No harm, no foul, though, as Matsuyama made his par and took the lead on his own.
Meanwhile, Rickie Fowler made three straight birdies on holes 12 through 14 to get within three shots of the lead.
Another bird on 15 and Fowler was on a major roll, but came up short in his quest to shrug off the “best golfer without a major” mantle. He finished at 5-under after firing a 67 on Sunday.
• Birdie— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) August 13, 2017
Two back and headed to the Green Mile. pic.twitter.com/Lop3oqi1cg
And then there was Stroud, who may have slept in his golf togs since winning his first PGA Tour event last week at the Barracuda Championship. A birdie on No. 9 gave the superstitious one a share of the lead with Matsuyama at 7-under — until the 25-year-old from Japan buried his birdie on the par-5 10 to retake the lead.
Well, Thomas’ birdie on No. 10 will make your head spin even more. After the tree he nailed with his tee shot spat the ball back to the fairway, JT finished the hole with panache.
After making the putt, JT turned his back to the hole as his ball hung on the edge, hung on the edge, hung on the edge (one one-thousand, two one-thousand) — and then miraculously dropped. A fist bump with his caddie and a tip of the cap ensued and Thomas was one shot off the lead.
We might look back at this as the break that won the event pic.twitter.com/uihavE8MIG— Dan Hauser (@DanHauserGolf) August 13, 2017
As Matsuyama dropped out of contention with three consecutive bogeys on 11, 12, and 13, Molinari, with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 11 and 12 and again on 14 and 15, played himself into a share of first place with Thomas.
And then, just like that, Molinari made a bogey on 16 and Thomas was alone at the top. He padded his lead with another unbelievable putt, a 40-footer for birdie, on the par-3 13th.
Reed sought to inject some more craziness into the day when he made two straight birdies on 14 and 15 to get to 5-under for the day and into solo second at 7-under.
Just quietly, Captain America birdies 15 to get to -7, one of the lead #PGAChamp— Robert Lusetich (@RobertLusetich) August 13, 2017
Oosthuizen threatened to put a damper on the “first-time major champion” narrative when the 2010 British Open winner made a long chip-in for eagle on the par-5 15th.
Oh, and remember Kisner? With a birdie on 15, he got back to 7-under and one back, but his run stalled with a bogey at 16; another water ball on the 18th ended his week with a whimper.
As all chasers eventually bowed out, the stage belonged to Thomas, who put an exclamation point on his victory with another birdie on the par-3 17th that got him to 9-under (he finished with a bogey on 18). His fourth win of the season earned him hugs from good buddies Fowler and Jordan Spieth (“So awesome,” he told his friend) and his name etched on the Wanamaker Trophy.