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US PGA Championship: Justin Thomas’ class told during weird week in Tulsa

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US PGA Championship: Justin Thomas’ class told during weird week in Tulsa

Justin Thomas and his caddy Jim 'Bones' Mackay
Thomas regularly discussed shots with his caddy Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay as he won his second major title

Justin Thomas was a worthy winner of the 104th US PGA Championship but rarely have we witnessed a more curious major. It felt as weird as the changeable weather that swept across the Southern Hills course in Tulsa last week.

Thomas was the last man standing and played sublimely to eclipse Will Zalatoris in the three hole play-off. But it was somehow appropriate that this event produced a champion who prevailed despite a stone cold shank earlier in his round.

Everyone, it seemed, found a way to lose and for a while it seemed Thomas had also succeeded in that unfathomable quest. He was furious with a third-round 74 that appeared to have put paid to his chances by Saturday evening.

It was only a pep talk from caddy Jim ‘Bones’ Mackay that put the eventual winner back on track. Clutching the trophy, Thomas recognized it was a vital post round intervention from the experienced bagman.

“I’m fully confident in saying that I would not be standing here if he did not give me that,” the 29-year-old champion said. “It was not necessarily a speech, but a talk, if you will.

“I just needed to let some steam out. I did not need to bring my frustration and anger home with me. I did not need to leave the golf course in a negative frame of mind.”

Mackay reminded Thomas that his four-over-par third round was not as bad as it seemed. “I felt like I’d played terrible,” Thomas said.

“And he was just like, dude, you’ve got to stop being so hard on yourself. You’re in contention every single week we’re playing.

“I’ve had a lot of chances to win tournaments, and it’s a hard golf course; it’s a major championship. You do not have to be perfect.”

Thomas was far from perfect when he shanked his tee shot at the par-three sixth hole of his final round. But he escaped with a bogey and grew in assurance while everyone else on the leaderboard found a way to flounder.

Matt Fitzpatrick seemed to be pressing too hard in his disappointing closing 73. He will reflect that a level-par 70 would have brought him a maiden major title.

This was the first time he has contended for one of the big four crowns and the Sheffield pro’s analytical diligence will serve him well for future tilts.

Fitzpatrick also had a front row view of Mito Pereira’s final-hole meltdown, a reminder that winning is always difficult on a major set up at courses such as Southern Hills.

It was a brutal end for the unheralded Chilean for whom there is consolation in climbing from 100 in the world to 49th and a place in the all important top-50 and the tournament doors that opens.

There is also the potentially scarring knowledge that he had a hand on the trophy but could not finish the job.

Thomas, like Fitzpatrick, emerged from the wrong side of the draw, battling the worst of the hot, humid and windy weather on Thursday afternoon and then Friday morning.

Those conditions contributed to the downfall of the world’s top three players; Masters victor Scottie Scheffler, US Open champion Jon Rahm and Open winner Collin Morikawa.

Their absence from the leaderboard contributed to the weirdness of a week when players such as Pereira, Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris and Cameron Young – all yet to win on the PGA Tour – were the most prominent figures.

What a chance this was for first-round leader Rory McIlroy, who departed without public comment after each of his 74-68 weekend rounds.

For once he had given himself a fast start with a sumptuous 65 last Thursday. There were few big names in his wing mirrors and he was in the right side of the draw. An ideal scenario.

Indeed, he was six under par for his first 14 holes. Level par thereafter would have yielded his first major title in nearly eight years.

The optimism engendered by his spirited finish to last month’s Masters, where he was runner-up, was blown away in Oklahoma’s chill weekend winds.

This one will hurt. Another missed opportunity, another backdoor top-10 from an event the 33-year-old Northern Irishman was in prime position to dominate.

Winning is tricky. Sometimes you just have to hang around and no one knows that better than McIlroy. He has spoken regularly about the need to keep big numbers off his card.

And the triple and double bogeys he suffered in Saturday’s 74 proved ruinous for someone who carded 16 birdies over the course of the week – easily enough to have prevailed.

“I just think it’s just so hard to win,” Thomas reflected to echo thoughts that must rattle around McIlroy’s mind.

“I legitimately think it’s harder to win now than it was when I first came out on Tour just for the depth of the Tour,” the now two times major champion added.

“I clearly haven’t won the amount of times that a handful of guys have this year. But I feel like I’ve played just as well as anybody on Tour.

“I just have not had the trophies to show, and I’d fallen in the world ranking, and that just kind of shows how strong it was or how strong the game of golf is.

“I think it’s easy to start letting some doubt creep in.”

Those internal worries must have waned with Thomas’ second US PGA title in five years. He is a prodigious talent and the second member of the world’s top-10 to win a men’s major this year.

He was the class act among a toiling supporting cast at Southern Hills, as he showed with two classy birdies that helped him take control of the deciding shootout.

This was a major that took a long time to identify a true world order, but it got there in the end.

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