TULSA, Okla. — Justin Thomas is a major champion when he least expected it.
Thomas matched a PGA Championship record Sunday when he rallied from a seven-shot deficit at Southern Hills, and then saved his most exquisite shot-making for a three-hole playoff to defeat Will Zalatoris.
He closed with a 3-under 67, matching the low score of a final round made difficult more by nerves than the wind. He seized control in the playoff with a 3-wood to 35 feet on the 301-yard 17th hole for a two-putt birdie.
He tapped in for par and stood erect with a smile, a mixture of joy and disbelief.
“I was asked early in the week what lead is safe and I said, ‘No lead,'” Thomas said. “I can't believe I found myself in a playoff.”
Thomas needed plenty of help, and Mito Pereira provided it in a tragic finish. The 27-year-old from Chile, playing in only his second major, took a one-shot lead to the final hole and drove into a creek to make double bogey.
It was the first time since Phil Mickelson at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open that a player lost a one-shot lead in the final hole to lose a major.
Zalatoris looked like he had thrown away his chances for a first major — and first PGA Tour victory — when he three-putted from just outside 20 feet on the 16th hole. But he responded with a birdie from the bunker at the 17th and holed an 8-foot par putt on the 18th for a 71.
He joined Thomas at 5-under 275, and they played on when Pereira faltered.
Thomas had gone 14 months without winning, dating to The Players Championship last year. Now he has a pair of PGA titles with his 15 career victories.
John Mahaffey in the 1978 PGA Championship at Oakmont was the other player to come from seven shots behind on the final day. He also won in a playoff over Tom Watson and Jerry Pate.