TULSA, Okla. ( Associated Press) — Justin Thomas became a major tournament champion when he least expected it.
Thomas equaled a PGA Championship record on Sunday after coming back from seven shots down at Southern Hills and saved his most exquisite shot to beat Will Zalatoris in a three-hole playoff.
He finished with 67 shots, three under par, to tie the lowest card of a final round whose greatest difficulty was not the wind but the nerves.
Thomas owned the tiebreaker with a two-shot birdie on the green from 35 feet with the 3-wood stick on the 301-yard 17th hole.
He made the pair and stood up straight with a smile, a mixture of joy and disbelief.
“I was asked in the week what lead was safe and I said ‘none,'” Thomas said. “I can’t believe I’m in a playoff.”
Thomas needed a lot of help to advance and the Chilean Mito Pereira gave it to him with a fatal finish. The 27-year-old Chilean, playing in just his second major tournament, had a one-shot lead on the final hole, but hit the ball into a creek and ended up with a double bogey.
It was the first time since Phil Mickelson at the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot that a player lost a shot lead on the last hole and ended up succumbing in a major.
Zalatoris blew his chances of winning a major tournament and his first PGA Tour victory when he needed three shots from 20 feet (6 meters) on the 17th hole and made par from 8 feet (2.40 meters). on the 18th hole for a total of 71 strokes.
Zalatoris and Thomas had 275 shots, 5 under par, and disputed the tiebreaker due to the sinking of Pereira.
Thomas went 14 months without a win dating back to The Players Championship last year. He now has a pair of PGA titles with his 15 career wins.
John Mahaffey, at the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont, is the only other player to come back from seven shots down on the final day. He also won the tournament after beating Tom Watson and Jerry Pate in a playoff.