A Review of the 2017 US PGA Championship

August 15, 2017

- Grant Whittington

This year saw the 99th instalment of the prestigious PGA Championship, which has served as one of golf’s major titles for nearly a century of gameplay.

Between the 10th and the 13th August, the sport’s elite players convened at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, which hosted its first ever major in the history of golf. It can now also lay claim to having hosted one of the most thrilling and keenly-contested final rounds in living memory, as six players competed for the ultimate prize.

In this article, we will look back at the tournament in closer detail, and an incredible final round that saw a new major champion anointed.

The Movers and Shakers: The Early Contenders

On the first morning on Thursday, 10th August, all of the competitors took to the course with a genuine sense of optimism. As the first tee was taken, however, it was hard to imagine that the sport’s usual suspects and household names (including Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson) would all be out of contention once the final day came around.

Interestingly, the opening round was relatively nondescript, with American Kevin Kisner and Thorbjørn Olesen shooting rounds of 67 to claim a share of the early lead on four under par. They were joined by U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka and his U.S. teammate Grayson Murray, with England’s Paul Casey (two under par) one of only two non-American players to feature in the top eight.

The tournament came to life on the second day, however, as inclement weather disrupted players and caused a two hour delay in the late afternoon. Play was also suspended earlier than expected due to encroaching darkness, with 25 players still competing out on the course.

Despite the punctuated nature of gameplay and adverse weather, however, some players shone on the Quail Hollow course. Hideki Matsuyama and Francesco Molinari, who carded steady if unspectacular first round scores of 70 and 73 respectively, both shot 64 to surge up the leaderboard. As a result of these efforts, Matsuyama climbed to share the lead with Kevin Kushner, who repeated his first round score of 67 and moved to eight under par. As for Molinari, he ended round two on five under par, in the perfect position to mount a challenge.

Other notable performances came from former champion Jason Day and Justin Thomas (more on him later), who both fired 66 to move to six and two under par perspectively.

Setting the Scene and Final Round Drama

Saturday’s play was extended to account for the previous day’s delays, with Chris Stroud being forced to complete his second round 68 before the third round could start. He then shot a solid 71 to finish an excellent day on six under par, tying for second with Matsuyama (who dropped two shots with a disappointing 73).

The Japanese star was fortunate that the early front-runner Kevin Kisner also dropped a shot with an inconsistent 72, leaving him on seven under and with a narrow, one stroke lead.

Conditions were certainly difficult throughout the third round, as high winds remained and made consistent ball-striking particularly troublesome. In fact, Justin Thomas and Grayson Murray showcased the best form out of all the front-runners, as each fired competitive rounds of 69 to close on five and three under par respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, Francesco Molinari failed spectacularly to repeat his round two heroics, firing a three over par 74 to close on two under par and five shots of the pace.

While just five shots separated the top 10 heading into the final round on Sunday 13th August, few could have anticipated the extent of the drama that was to unfold out on the course. After nine tumultuous rounds along the front nine, five players found themselves tied for first on seven under par as a truly enthralling battle began to take place.

Kisner was one of this select group, despite having failed to record a birdie during the formative part of the round and bogeyed the par-five seventh after striking his approach into the water. In contrast, Matsuyama birdied both the sixth and the seventh to join the lead, while Justin Thomas sunk a 36-foot birdie putt on the ninth to join his rivals. Chris Stroud also birdied the ninth to go seven under, while Molinari continued his roller-coaster tournament by firing four birdies in five holes on the front nine to throw his hat into the ring.

If this period of gameplay was thrilling, however, the tumultuous back nine was scarcely believable. Justin Thomas set the tone with an excellent birdie on the par-five at the 10th, while he also gained another shot with a chipped birdie at the 13th. This kept him in touch with Matsuyama, who also birdied the 10th and claimed the outright lead by a single stroke. Kishner secured his own birdie at the 10th, although this ultimately proved to be a false dawn as the omni-present leader simply failed showcase consistent form down the back nine.

Incredibly, both Kishner and Matsuyama fell away over the course of the next eight holes, with the former recording three bogeys at the 11th, the 12th and the 16th, and the latter registering five bogeys to ultimately tie for fifth. Chris Stroud struggled even more manfully, playing the back nine at six over to end up tying for ninth at just one under par.

This left Thomas and the consistent Molinari as the narrow favourites down the back nine, with the latter performing steadily to stay in contention. At this point, other contenders entered the fray, (including Patrick Reed, who sunk three birdies in succession to move to within a single stroke of the lead) with three to play. Louis Oosthuizen then holed out from 34 yards on the par-five 15th, securing an eagle and joining Reed in contention for a final round tilt. A final round of 67 also catapulted Rickie Fowler into a tie for fifth, but it came a little late to challenge the leaders.

At the end of it all, however, Thomas teed off at the 18th with a three shot lead, knowing that he was the overwhelming favourite to land his first major title. There was nearly time for one more twist, however, as he drove into a fairway bunker and was forced to adopt a conservative approach simply to complete the hole. Ultimately, he managed to sink a short bogey putt to complete a respectable 68 in the final round, finishing eight under par and a two shot victory.

On Reflection: A Major win for Thomas

Ultimately, just three shots separated the top six players, with Molinari, Oosthuizen and latecomer Reed tying for second on six under par. Then came Fowler and Matsuyama on five under par, with the Japanese world number three disappointed to have lost ground in the home straight.

With his win, however, Justin Thomas became the fourth different major winner in 2017, and the eighth different winner since the U.S. Open in 2015. Interestingly, he was also the third player to win a debut major title this year, as the men’s game became increasingly competitive and the established order began to find it increasingly difficult to assert their dominance.

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