Justin Thomas secured his first major title at the PGA Championship with a gutsy final-round performance to win by two shots at Quail Hollow.
When we spoke to Justin Thomas earlier this year, he told us his goal was to get 'in to contention in a major on Sunday'. By the 72nd hole of the 2017 PGA Championship, he was leading by three shots at nine-under-par and about to close out his first major victory.
He needed three shots to get to the par-four 18th green, but loud chants of 'JT' greeted the 24-year-old as he approached the final hole of Quail Hollow with a 20-foot putt for par. It was not to be, but a brilliant lag gave him a tap in bogey for a 68, leaving Kevin Kisner in need of an eagle at the last to force a play-off with the four-time PGA Tour winner.
Kisner's approach shot found the water, and he would end up with a double-bogey to drop back to four-under for the tournament and in a tie for seventh place with Graham DeLaet. As for Thomas, he now joins Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka as the third American in a row under 30 to have won a major in 2017.
Thie victory means a lot to Thomas, and as a third-generation PGA member (following his father and grandfather), it felt fitting his first major victory and fourth win of the 2016/17 season would come at the event that celebrates PGA members.
"I really can't put in to words how much this means to me," Thomas said after his win. "For me the PGA definitely had a special place in my heart. And maybe a special drive. It's just a great win for the family and a moment we'll never forget."
"I know that a major champion is something that will never be taken away from you, after my name. Hopefully, I'm going to win some more, plenty more, a lot more, whatever."
With a round that included a lucky bounce from a tree on to the 10th fairway, a putt that took over 10 seconds to drop in and a chip in on 13, Thomas put on a display to remember as the punishing course led to a frequently changing leaderboard.
He began the day two shots adrift of overnight leader Kevin Kisner, and he got off to a difficult start in his bid for a first major title with a dropped shot on the opening hole. Thomas instantly responded with a birdie, but a second dropped shot followed on the third to complete a frustrating first three holes.
Playing partner Hideki Matsuyama was the first to steal the lead away from Kisner, but Thomas quickly began gaining momentum with birdies on the 7th and 9th holes.
The 10th hole was really the biggest turning point for Thomas, who shouted 'get lucky' after his ball as he pulled his drive left of target and towards the crowds. Luck was to be on his side, for his tee-shot bounced off the tree in to the middle of the fairway, and he was able to set-up a great chance for birdie to get within one of playing partner Matsuyama.
His putt looked to have missed by less than inches, but after walking away for a few seconds he turned only to see it drop in to the hole. It proved crucial, as by the 11th a costly dropped shot from Matsuyama meant there was a five-way tie at the top of the leaderboard, and by the 12th Thomas was out in front by himself.
"The putt on 10 was funny because it snuck up on the hole," he said. "We read it going back a little back right and it never did. I kind of acted like a child and threw a little tantrum, but then it went in and I didn't look so dumb."
Kisner, Matsuyama, Chris Stroud and Francesco Molinari had all bogeyed their next holes, and while Louis Oosthuizen and Patrick Reed also mounted late charges - Thomas would not be caught again.
He put further distance between himself and the chasing pack with a chip-in birdie on the par-three 13th hole, and while challenges from Matsuyama, Reed and Kisner came in the form of birdies late on, they also all tailed off during the infamous 'green-mile stretch'.
"I was a lot more comfortable and calm than I thought I would be. Just kind of going through those holes knowing that I've done this a million times. I know that's a clche, and everyone says it."
A clutch-putt on the 16th was followed by a birdie on the 17th to retain his lead, leaving Thomas with a two-shot cushion and a considerably favourable chance at victory.- but not before he allowed a sliver of doubt to creep in to his mind.
On the way to the 17th green he had tried to quickly eat a snack, and for a brief moment he wondered if his choking on it was a foreshadowing of things to come. "I started coughing and I was like 'Am I really going to choke? Is this a sign to come?' The things you think about when you get in those situations.'
It wasn't a sign. His slightly pushed tee-shot found the bunker on the 18th, but while he was contemplating how to play his approach to the green, he wasn't aware Kisner had just three-putted the par-four 16th and his lead had increased to three.
A final-hole bogey still left him two shots clear of Kisner, Molinari, Reed and Oosthuizen, and close friends Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Bud Cauley stood green-side to congratulate him on his victory. Instead of the needed eagle, it was a double-bogey for Kisner, and it would be Thomas' name etched in to the Wanamaker Trophy.
Having already won twice already in 2017, become the youngest player on the PGA Tour to have ever shot a 59 and set history the lowest scoring record at the US Open (63) in relation to par, Thomas had already shown he was worthy of the big stage. But now he has the major championship title to prove it.