The recent PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club was a rollercoaster ride of shifting emotions. Rory McIlroy had golf fans on the edge of their seats during the first round, storming to the top of the leaderboard with a five-under-par 65 as it looked like he would finally end his eight-year major drought.
But the Northern Irishman capitulated in the middle rounds of the tournament with two over-par rounds and maiden major chasers Will Zalatoris and Mito Pereira took to the fore of the field. Zalatoris led the Chilean by a shot on nine under after 36 holes, but they switched positions after the third round — Pereira boasting an overnight lead of three strokes heading into the Sunday.
The 27-year-old, ranked 100th in the world prior to teeing off at the start of the PGA Championship in Tulsa, looked visibly nervous ahead of the final round and Zalatoris quickly closed the gap with two birdies in the first five holes — tying for the lead with Pereira who was one over.
By the turn into the back nine, Pereira had restored his one-shot lead over the American, but he certainly hadn’t calmed those jitters and the resurgence of Justin Thomas, who was flying up the leaderboard with birdies on the ninth, 11th, 12th and 17th to take him to -5, perhaps didn’t help the Chilean’s nerves either.
Still leading by a shot at the last, all Pereira had to do was par the 18th to get his hands on the illustrious PGA Championship trophy. But there was late drama on the final hole as Pereira, on the cusp of causing a major upset in the online sports betting with SkyBet, sliced his drive into the water and ended up putting for a double-bogey to not let the title slip from his grasps, but miss out on a place in the subsequent play-off as well.
Heartache for the inexperienced Chilean ended up in scenes of jubilation for Thomas as the 2021 Ryder Cup winner ended his five-year major drought with a victory over his younger compatriot Zalatoris in the three-hole play-off — adding a second PGA Championship success to his résumé after winning the same title at Quail Hollow in 2017.
“I thought I was nervous the first day,’’ Pereira said after his 18th-hole collapse. “Then I thought I was nervous the second day. Then I thought I was nervous on the third day but the fourth day was terrible. I mean, this morning was tough.’’
His caddie Scott McGuinness, who started working with Pereira in March, added: “His whole game was just a little bit off today. He wasn’t tense, he was in great spirits. He hit a huge drive on 17 and it (his putt) was one roll away from winning a major. So close.’’
Pereira isn’t the first PGA rookie to let nerves get the better of him late in the final round of a major, just look at McIlroy’s infamous capitulation at the 2011 Masters, and he definitely won’t be the last.
But while he has let it get the better of him this time, it’s about using this experience to hold it together next time he finds himself in this situation — much like Scottie Scheffler, who admitted he cried before the final round of this year’s Masters but held on to win the Green Jacket and his first major.