CHARLOTTE, N.C. – There may never be a more fitting PGA Champion than Justin Thomas.
The 24-year-old — golf’s newest major winner after rallying with a 3-under 68 to win by two strokes over Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed and Louis Oosthuizen on Sunday at Quail Hollow — is a third generation PGA member. Both Thomas’s dad, Mike, and grandfather, Paul, are PGA members.
The victory in the season’s final major has Thomas in the driver’s seat for Player of the Year honors. Before this week, he had already collected three wins on the PGA Tour this season. Thomas, one of the brightest young stars on the PGA Tour the last couple of years, joins childhood friend Jordan Spieth as a major champion.
We already knew Spieth's chances were nil after 54 holes when he was 10 shots behind leader Kevin Kisner. On Sunday it became official.
"It was just on the greens early in the week," Spieth said. "I felt like I struck the ball well. I landed a ton of balls on the green that ended up off the green. Just kind of happens here. If I'd landed them a couple of paces here or there different then they would have stayed on with birdie looks. Instead they are in the nasty rough trying to make pars."
Spieth finished his first crack at a career Grand Slam at Quail Hollow with a 1-under 70 —his best score of the week — to finish the tournament at 2-over 286 and in a tie for 28th.
"Michael [Greller] is telling me walking off 18 today. He goes, 'Hey, just want you to know that's a great year in the majors,'" Spieth said. "I go, 'Buddy, we won one of the majors. I understand that's a great year in the majors.'
"He almost thinks I'm disappointed maybe with how this week went," Spieth added. "But we won a major. We had a chance to win at Augusta, too. The U.S. Open and here — I didn't have a chance to win, which is a downer. But overall, when I look back on the year in the major championships, shoot, it was fantastic. If I did this every year, I would go down as the greatest ever to play the game. I need to look at it that way and I am."
Interestingly, when Spieth gets his next chance to complete the career Slam in August 2018, it will be at Bellerive in St. Louis, the same venue where Gary Player won the 1965 U.S. Open to complete his career Grand Slam.
In Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship, the 12 players that finished inside the Top 10 played the 16th, 17th and 18th holes in a collective 11-over par.
Canada’s Graham DeLaet, who tied for seventh, was the only player in the Top 10 to play that stretch under par. He parred 16 and 17 before making birdie at the 18th.
Chris Stroud had the most difficult time navigating the Green Mile. He played the three holes in 4-over with bogeys on 16 and 17 and a double bogey at the 18th to tie for ninth at 1-under.
Here’s how the holes played for the entire field in the final round:
No. 16, 519-yard, par 4
Rank: 3rd most difficult
Scoring average: 4.320
No. 17, 220-yard, par 3
Rank: 4th most difficult
Scoring average: 3.227
No. 18, 500-yard, par 4
Rank: 2nd most difficult
Scoring average: 4.480
Despite firing his best score of the week, a 3-under 69 in the final round at Quail Hollow on Sunday, the PGA Championship marked a disappointing end to the major championship season for McIlroy.
"Nice to finish the week off on a positive note," he said. "I started better today. That was the real key to the round. If you can start and be under par through the first six, I was saying over there, you are not really putting yourself under pressure to birdie the seventh, to birdie the eighth, to birdie the 10th. If you can get off to at that good start, it's really the key to this golf course. I didn't get off to that good start for a couple of days and that sort of -- that's why I'm not on that putting green warming up to go out and play now."
His final mark of 1-over 285 gave the four-time major winner a tie for 22nd in the PGA Championship. That goes along with a T7 at the Masters, a missed cut at the U.S. Open and a T4 at the Open Championship. A stellar showing in the majors for most, but not McIlroy.
The former world No. 1 hasn't collected a major win since the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla. Next April at Augusta National, he'll have a chance to complete the career Grand Slam at the Masters.
For now, however, there's a chance that we've seen the last of McIlroy for the season. That's a tidbit the 2016 FedExCup Champion revealed after finishing off his final round.
"I feel like I'm capable and playing well enough to give myself a chance in it [the FedExCup]," he said. "At the same time, April is a long way away. That's the next big thing on my radar."
McIlroy, whose last win was in the 2016 Tour Championship, fractured a rib back in January. He took seven weeks off to let it heal and then began experiencing back pain at the Players Championship after what he called "too much practice."
The injury has lingered since. On Sunday, he explained that he could feel his left rhomboid going into spasm and "the inside of my left arm goes numb."
Pressed further on his schedule for the remainder of the year, McIlroy was unsure.
"Look, I don't know what I'm going to do," he said. "You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple of weeks’ time. It really depends."
Can you blame him? The world No. 1 won three starts in succession leading into the Masters where he was the tournament favorite. Then, on the eve of the season's first major, Johnson slipped down some stairs at his rental house and landed on his back.
The next day, he arrived at Augusta National in an attempt to give it a go, but after hitting a few balls on the range, he realized the pain would be too much and withdrew, setting the tone for what would be a lackluster run in the three majors he was able to play in 2017.
As the defending champion at the U.S. Open, Johnson missed the cut. He followed that with a T54 at the Open Championship. Then, here at Quail Hollow, Johnson broke 70 for the first time on Sunday with a 4-under 67 to finish the tournament at even-par 284, good for a T13.
Much like McIlroy, Johnson's back issues have lingered all year. That's what has had Johnson bummed out.
"Definitely a little frustrated for sure," he said. "Because going into Augusta I'm playing the best golf of my career. Everything is working very well, and then unfortunately I didn't get to play the Masters and then just struggled a little bit this whole summer. It's all due to what happened right before Augusta, slipping and hurting my back. But I feel like the game is coming around. It's starting to feel a lot better. Got confidence in it. Definitely rolled the putter a little bit better today. It's close to being really good."
Johnson isn't going to let the ailing back deter his plans over the next several weeks, which include competing in the PGA Tour Playoffs and then representing the U.S. at Liberty National in the Presidents Cup.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I need to take a few days to relax and then it's time to get back at it."
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