PGA Championship: Justin Thomas claims second major with playoff win

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TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MAY 22: Justin Thomas of the United States reacts to his winning putt on the 18th hole with caddie Jim
TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MAY 22: Justin Thomas of the United States reacts to his winning putt on the 18th hole with caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay, the third playoff hole during the final round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 22, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Where there's drama, there's always heartbreak.

Justin Thomas won the PGA Championship in a three-hole playoff, capping a remarkable comeback from as far back as eight strokes down on Sunday. He defeated Will Zalatoris, whose close-but-no-trophy streak continues across golf's majors.

Left in their wake: Mito Pereira, the young Chilean who led the tournament for 71 holes until disaster on the 18th hole. It wasn't quite Jean van de Velde-at-the-Open territory, but Pereira had the tournament on his tee and watched it dribble away.

Playing in just his second major, and on the weekend for the first time, Pereira had two holes to play and a one-stroke lead at -6. Thomas, seven strokes behind to start the day, waited with a -5 clubhouse lead. Zalatoris, who has five top-10 finishes in his last eight majors, stood one hole ahead of Pereira at -5.

Pereira and Zalatoris, along with playing partners Matthew Fitzpatrick and Cameron Young, had made a hash of the course, all playing the day over par. If any of them had been able to convert early putts or keep early approaches true, they'd have walked off with the Wanamaker Trophy. But when everyone's struggling, everyone stays in the hunt.

Thomas could only watch, regretting several missed birdie putts, as the three last competitors made their charge. Fitzpatrick was the first to eject, putting his approach shot on 17 into the greenside bunker. Unable to get up and down for par, he fell to -3 and effectively out of the hunt.

Up ahead, Zalatoris struggled with the wicked 18th, but still managed to roll in an eight-foot par putt to tie Thomas at -5, which turned out to be one of the most crucial shots of the entire tournament.

On the 17th, Pereira faced the putt of his life, a 12-footer that would have given him a two-stroke lead heading to the 18th. But the putt stopped half a rotation from falling in, and Pereira walked to the 18th tee with that one-shot lead.

And that's where it all went wrong for him. Pereira's final tee shot of the day was his worst of the week, an awkward slash that ended up rolling all the way into the creek that runs alongside the 18th fairway.

With the penalty stroke, Pereira had two strokes from 190 yards to win, three to join in the playoff with Thomas and Zalatoris. But his approach flew far to the left off the pin, his chip rolled right past the pin and back off the green, and his attempt to putt from the fringe came up short. It was a heartbreaking end to what had been a spectacular tournament for a young player who for the last few years has had more talent than fame.

That left just Zalatoris and Thomas to square off in the first PGA Championship playoff since 2011, a three-hole aggregate showdown. On the par 5 13th, Zalatoris got on the deck first, and nearly holed an eagle putt. Thomas third landed six feet from the pin, and both walked off the hole with birdies.

On the driveable 17th, Thomas took charge, reaching the green off the tee with a shot that just barely cleared the collar of the greenside bunker. Zalatoris' shot ended up on the fringe, another bunker between him and the pin, and he pitched up to about 12 feet from the flag. Zalatoris missed the birdie putt, but Thomas, whose eagle attempt ended up three feet away from the cup, did not.

That left Thomas in the lead for the first time since Friday morning, a one-shot margin heading back to that lethal 18th. Thomas' tee shot veered toward the creek that had claimed Pereira, but stayed in the fairway. Zalatoris, meanwhile, kept to a conservative approach and stayed dry.

On the approach, Zalatoris ended up on the edge of the green, nestled up against the fringe. Thomas took dead aim at the flagstick, unleashing a high, arcing nine-iron that left him with an easy two-putt to claim a one-stroke victory and his second major.

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MAY 22: Justin Thomas of the United States reacts on the 18th green during the final round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 22, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MAY 22: Justin Thomas of the United States reacts on the 18th green during the final round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 22, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

The PGA Championship touts itself as having the strongest field in golf, and there's merit to that boast; 96 of the top 100 players in the game were on the grounds at Southern Hills. But past performance was no guarantee of PGA success, as all three defending champions of the other majors quickly learned. Masters champion Scottie Scheffler missed the cut, a thudding halt to what had been a remarkable ascent. Fellow odds-on favorite Jon Rahm, defending U.S. Open champion, and Collin Morikawa, defending Open Championship winner, made the cut but were irrelevant to the final result.

The PGA's own defending champion, Phil Mickelson, was one of the week's early stories by his absence. Still in self-imposed exile for his comments praising a new Saudi golf regime and criticizing the PGA Tour, Mickelson opted out of the tournament the Friday evening prior to the tournament. His absence loomed over the tournament only as long as it took for the first tee shots to launch.

One of those who enjoyed some success in those first few hours Thursday: Tiger Woods, whose strong early play lifted him to within a shot of the lead. But Woods, still recovering from the injuries of a single-car crash in February 2021, cooled off as the effects of yet another strenuous round on his surgically repaired knee slowed him. By Saturday, Woods had struggled to a +12 round, and elected to withdraw from the tournament rather than risk further pain and damage.

Woods played the first two days in a superstar grouping with Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, but only one of the three stepped up on that first day. McIlroy, who historically struggles on Thursdays, instead threw down a first-round 65 to claim a one-stroke lead, the first round he'd led in a major since his last major victory, the 2014 PGA Championship. Spieth, meanwhile, angling for a career grand slam, faltered from the jump and never came close to contention.

Friday brought high winds that decimated the morning wave of players, with the sole exception of Thomas. Attempting to follow up on his 2017 PGA victory, his lone major, Thomas took the clubhouse lead with a second straight 67. But Zalatoris and Pereira, playing in the afternoon wave, caught and passed Thomas to finish Friday at -9 and -8, respectively.

Southern Hills promised winds from all four directions and weather from all four seasons, and Saturday rolled in with a chill that cooled almost the entire field. Pereira remained steady, capturing the lead at -9 while Zalatoris struggled with his putter and fell back to -6. Two other players lacking even their first PGA Tour victory, Fitzpatrick and Young, fought their way into the final pairings with twin 67s. Thomas, meanwhile, appeared to play himself out of the tournament, falling seven strokes off Pereira's lead.

Then Sunday dawned cooler but clear, and the opportunity was there for any of the players to leap out in front of the field. None did, and that led to the final-holes drama.

TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MAY 22: Will Zalatoris of the United States reacts to his putt on the 18th green during the final round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 22, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images )
TULSA, OKLAHOMA - MAY 22: Will Zalatoris of the United States reacts to his putt on the 18th green during the final round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 22, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images )

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@yahoo.com.