CRAWFORD | Thomas threatens, but Woods, Koepka capture PGA spotlight
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Justin Thomas gave it a good run, but a couple of stumbles late and a mistake-free finish by eventual winner Brooks Koepka left him settling for a sixth-place tie in his defense of the PGA Championship at Bellerive Golf Club in St. Louis.
The Goshen, Ky., native said he’d always wanted to be in a Sunday battle with Tiger Woods in a major, and on this Sunday he got his wish. Thomas birdied three of his first seven holes to pull within a stroke of the lead, with Woods just two strokes away. On No. 9, Thomas had a chance to take the lead outright with a birdie putt. Instead, he missed that, then another short one to drop a stroke on Koepka.
He hung tough. He responded with birdies on No. 10 and No. 11. After a bogey on No. 14, he made a 30-foot putt to save par on No. 15. But his opportunity had been lost, and Koepka wasn’t leaving any openings.
On a day that will be most remembered for Tiger Woods’ return to the big-time stage in a major championship with a runner-up finish, Koepka won his second major of the year and third in the last six in which he’s participated. He became just the fifth man to win the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in the same year.
After his round, Thomas said he’ll just take frustration away, despite a final-round 68 and overall finish of 270, which tied him with four others, winning just over $425,000.
“A lot of frustration, honestly,” he said. “I had a really good chance to win this tournament. I don’t really know what happened the last five holes or so. I was playing so well, hitting so many putts. I kind of had that fluke three-putt on No. 9, but really hit so many clutch shots, then to just have it all flip and not finish very well definitely stings.”
Thomas said as well as Koepka played, he still liked his own position heading into the back nine, despite his struggles on the ninth green.
“I was tied for the lead or one back most of the day,” he said. “Until pretty much kind of that, 13, 14 was really the only time I fell back today. Starting four back and then having a putt to take the lead on No. 9, I couldn't have really drawn it up any better. Yeah, I just had a lot of things go wrong on that putt on 9. I didn't play enough break, I hit it too hard, I had a huge spike mark in my line, and I pushed it. And then I missed the short one. So just had a lot of things go wrong. But like I said, I bounced back fine and I still had a great chance.”
While Thomas grew up during the whole Tiger Woods run, he hadn’t ever played with the kind of large, roaring galleries that attend Woods in contention on the last day at a major. He had that experience on Sunday.
For Woods, it was the lowest score in the final round in a major in his career.
“It was pretty cool,” Thomas said. “The crowds were awesome out there. You could hear the roars from different parts of the golf course. It's pretty apparent what a Tiger roar is versus anybody else. So I knew he was making noise and I was looking at the leaderboards, I always do on Sunday, because I want to know where I stand and what I need to do to win.”
The majors are over, but golf isn’t. There are some big tournaments, the FedEx Cup, and Thomas hasn’t seen the last of Tiger Woods. He’s hoping perhaps to play with him during the Ryder Cup in France.
“I don't know, it would be great, but, yeah, I mean he's, if he's on the team, great, I really look forward to it,” Thomas said. “He's going to be on the team one way or the other, whether he's a vice captain or a player and whichever role he is I'm looking forward to it and I know he is too. . . . You guys have seen it for a while now, he moves the needle and he creates quite a buzz.”
Thomas said his play has sharpened up, just at the right time.
“I feel like I'm playing really well, the best I have in a while,” he said. “So I need to try to continue that because this is definitely a good time of year to peak.”
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