The USPGA Championship which would have been held at Donald’s Trump’s course in New Jersey had he not incited a riot in Washington in January of last year was instead played at Southern Hill in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It concluded on Sunday with victory for Justin Thomas, who had also won the Wanamaker Trophy in 2017, and huge disappointment for Chile’s Mito Pereira, who had never had a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour but had led by three shots going into the final round.
He stood on the 18th tee needing a par-four to become the first South American to win this title; only the third to win a major championship. (Roberto de Vicenzo and Angel Cabrera, twice, since you asked.) His drive was woeful, into a creek. He made six. He didn’t even make the three-hole playoff which saw Thomas, who had played the back nine in three under par, prevail over fellow-American Will Zalatoris. “If you hit the fairways you can make birdies,” said Thomas. “I stayed so patient, I just couldn’t believe I found myself in a playoff.”
In a three-way tie for fifth with Chris Kirk, two shots out of the playoff, were two Englishmen, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood. Had Fitzpatrick shot level par he would have won. Had he made birdie on the 17th hole, a driveable par-four, he would have climbed to five under. But he bogeyed it. Fleetwood finished strongly with four straight birdies from the 14th but he had left himself too much to do. Twice a major runner-up, he is still knocking on the door.
The championship had begun with one particularly eye-catching threeball: Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. McIlroy ended his unwanted predilection for sorry starts by opening with a five-under-par 65 to take the lead. A 71 on Friday wasn’t too bad but a 74 on Saturday finished him off; well, it didn’t in that four birdies in the first five holes on Sunday lifted him to four under par, a shot off what would be the playoff mark. But after that high point his only variations to par coming home were bogeys at 6 and 17.
Jordan, like Rory, is still waiting to complete the career Grand Slam. He finished four over par, so he was far from achieving that goal here. As for Tiger, he has of course won all four majors, at a minimum three times over, but maybe he’d have preferred to have the weekend off at this one. He made the cut with just a shot to spare but after a third-round 79, which left him in a tie for dead last on 12 over par, he withdrew. Walking looks like a real ordeal for him. It should be easier at St Andrews in July and, dare one say, it’s likely the weather then will be warmer than it was on Saturday at Southern Hills.
Perhaps the most poignant quote of the week came from the 27-year-old Pereira. “On Monday,” he said, “I just wanted to make the cut. On Sunday, I just wanted to win.” As for Donald Trump’s ongoing involvement in professional golf tournaments, as of now it extends to his courses hosting two tournaments organised under the auspices of the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series, the first being a fortnight after the Open. Which probably means his chances of ever staging a major championship have further receded.
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