By Doug Ferguson
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Justin Thomas emerged from the shadow of a longtime friend and won the PGA Championship to take his place among the young elite in golf.
With two big breaks to start the back nine, a chip-in for birdie and a 7-iron that soared over the water to a peninsula green, Thomas closed with a 3-under 68 and won by two shots. The PGA Championship was the most fitting major for the 24-year-old son of a PGA professional.
Mike Thomas, a former PGA board member and longtime pro in Kentucky, walked along the edge of the 18th green and into the arms of his son, a major champion.
The week began with Jordan Spieth’s quest for a career Grand Slam. Spieth was at the 18th green late Sunday afternoon at Quail Hollow, but only so he could celebrate the moment with Thomas, close friends since they were 14.
“So awesome, dude,” Spieth told him.
It was every bit of that.
With five players still in the mix in the final hour, Thomas surged ahead by chipping in from 40 feet on the par-3 13th hole, and holding his nerve down the stretch as his challengers eventually faded, one after another.
Hideki Matsuyama, bidding to become the first player from Japan to win a major, appeared to recover from back-to-back bogeys with two straight birdies on the 14th and 15th holes to get within one shot. But the championship turned on the 16th hole.
Thomas faced a 6-foot par putt to stay at 8 under. Matsuyama caught a good lie over the green and chipped to five feet. Thomas wasted no time over the putt and drilled it in the centre of cup. Matsuyama missed and was two shots behind.
Thomas sealed it with a 7-iron from 221 yards that cleared the water and rolled out to 15 feet. The birdie putt curled in and his lead was up to three going to the 18th. A final bogey only affected the score.
He finished at 8-under 276, his fourth victory of the year.
Kevin Kisner was the last one who had a chance to catch him. But he three-putted from 100 feet on the 16th for bogey, couldn’t birdie the 17th from long range and hit his second shot into the water and finished with a double bogey. Kisner, the 54-hole leader, closed with a 74.
Matsuyama also hit into the water on No. 18 and made bogey for a 72 to finish three back.
Louis Oosthuizen (70), Patrick Reed (67) and Francesco Molinari (67) tied for second, though none had a chance to win playing the 18th. Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., tied with Kisner for seventh.