Justin Thomas and the PGA Championship: Drama but no dominance

Justin Thomas, Mito Pereira, PGA Championship, Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Justin Thomas, Mito Pereira, PGA Championship, Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports /

If you like dramatic comebacks,  the win by Justin Thomas at the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills was a delight.

However, if your taste runs to dominant performances that lift the status of players closer to that of an immortal, the 2022 PGA Championship was a major dud.

The comeback part is easy to quantify. Justin Thomas won by edging out Will Zalatoris in a three-way playoff. Thomas began the final round trailing overnight leader Mito Pereira by seven strokes, and trailing Zalatoris by four.

But he closed with his third 67 of the week while Zalatoris managed only a one-over 71 on the par 70 layout. Pereira, carrying a one-stroke lead to one of the toughest final holes in Major play – only two men who needed a par to win ever got that par – made double and shot himself out of both the lead and the playoff.

Thomas’ rally matched the largest comeback from a 54-hole deficit in PGA Championship history. Back in 1978, John Mahaffey trailed third-round leader Tom Watson by seven, but turned in a Sunday 66 to finish in a  three-way tie with Watson and Jerry Pate. Mahaffey won the sudden-death playoff on the second hole.

Four other champions overcame six-stroke deficits in the final round to win. Bob Rosburg beat Jerry Barber in 1959, Lanny Wadkins overtook Gene Littler in 1977, Payne Stewart beat Mike Reid in 1989 and Steve Elkington caught and passed Ernie Els in 1995.

Five birdies, partly offset by two bogeys, was enough to lift Thomas into the playoff when none of the men ahead of him beginning play Sunday did anything notable.

There were seven bodies to be passed. Behind Pereira and Zalatoris, Matthew Fitzpatrick led Thomas by four, Cameron Young by three, Abraham Ancer by two, and Seamus Power by one. Stewart Cink was even with Thomas at 208.

None of the eight played level par golf, Zalatoris and Young turning in the best cards, 71. The group average score of those seven Sunday was a supremely modest 72.43.

Justin Thomas beat Zalatoris in the three-hole playoff with birdies on the 13th and 17th holes, and a par on 18. Zalatoris birdied the 13th, but parred 17 and 18.

So the tournament provided plenty of drama. But it will hardly go down in golf history as having generated great performances. The standard deviation of Thomas’ dominance over the field was only -2.01, a weak showing by championship golf standards.

In fact, it was the weakest dominance rating by a PGA champion in a decade. Here are the dominance ratings for the 10 most recent PGA Championship winners.

Year         Player                   Dom. Rating

2022       Justin Thomas        -2.01

2021       Phil Mickelson        -2.24

2020       Collin Morikawa     -2.34

2019       Brooks Koepka      -3.04

2018       Brooks Koepka      -2.75

2017       Justin Thomas       -2.29

2016       Jimmy Walker        -2.72

2015       Jason Day               -2.09

2014       Rory McIlroy          -2.18

2013       Jason Dufner         -2.50

The last PGA champion to win with a weaker dominance rating was Keegan Bradley, who won the 2011 PGA Championship in a playoff with Dufner. His winning rating was -1.75.

In fact, since the championship adopted its stroke play format in 1958, only eight players have won with a less dominant showing. The weakest was Julius Boros’ -1.67 dominance score in winning the 1968 PGA. That year 15 players finished within four shots of Boros.

It’s hard to envision this Major as gilding the reputations of any of the game’s would-be stars, Thomas being the only plausible exception. And before one gets too swept away by Thomas claiming his second Major, let it be noted that since winning the 2017 PGA he has only one other top 5, that being a fourth at the 2020 Masters.

Next. 2022 PGA Championship: Expert Picks and Predictions For Southern Hills. dark

He’s missed three cuts in that same span, and his average dominance score in his 15 Majors prior to Southern Hills was +0.11. For the record, a dominance score of zero is average, so Justin Thomas’ +0.11 paints him as slightly below average in Majors between the start of 2018 and last Wednesday.

At least Thomas won. Many of the game’s other stars were defeated by Southern Hills. World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and Dustin Johnson both missed the cut. Koepka and Morikawa both tied for 55th, Jon Rahm tied for 48th, and Jordan Spieth tied for 34th. Among holders of Major titles, only Thomas and Rory McIlroy — who tied for eighth — finished among the top 10.