As he stood over his ball on the 15th green, Justin Thomas was not only measuring the distance to the cup, he was also thinking of distancing himself from the persistent duo of Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. Thomas sank an eagle putt to put himself three ahead from Morikawa. But with the finish line in his sights, Thomas blinked. He made two bogeys, including one on the 72nd, and Morikawa gained a birdie on the 17th to force a playoff, with a final round 66. Thomas made 69 while third placed Viktor Hovland finished with a 71, four strokes behind at 15-under 273. All three men enjoyed a taste of the lead and losing it through a dramatic final round at the Muirfield Village Golf Club.
These are young men with a mountain of belief in their game. Thomas, 27, produced an incredible birdie from 50 feet after working his way to the back of the green from the rough. Morikawa, 23, was staring down the barrel, needing a 24 footer to keep the playoff alive. But he dug deep and produced a clutch putt that hung just enough on the left edge to drop inside.
On the second playoff hole, Thomas had the better ball. But his birdie putt to win slid agonisingly past the edge of the cup. The two men proceeded to the 10th tee. While Morikawa found the centre of the fairway, Thomas sent his ball behind a short tree and was forced to spend a shot to extricate himself back to the fairway. When that dust settled, Morikawa was inside ten feet for birdie while Thomas needed to save par from 14 feet. Both men missed those putts.
Morikawa missed left from nine feet. But he had two shots for victory and par on the third playoff hole was enough to earn his second PGA TOUR victory in 24 outings.
Earlier in the round, Thomas navigated to the cup on the 2nd and 3rd holes through the greenside bunkers, collecting bogeys. Meanwhile, Morikawa picked up birdies on the 2nd and 4th and cushioned his card with a sensational eagle on the par-5 5th hole. He reached the green in two, leaving himself just three feet for an easy eagle, or so he made it seem.
The other member of this final threesome, Hovland joined the action too. The Norwegian collected a hat-trick of birdies from the third hole to join the melee at the top of the leaderboard. A bogey at the sixth, after getting wet with his second shot, stalled Hovland in his tracks.
Just ahead of the turn, Thomas broke the monotony with a pair of birdies on the 8th and 9th. He regained control of the leaderboard when he added two more birdies to make it four in a row. Thomas added a birdie on the 14th and the eagle at the 15th seemed to seal the deal for a 13th career victory on the PGA TOUR.
“It’s completely unacceptable to give up a three-shot lead with three to go. I’m upset. I’m disappointed in myself,” said Thomas. “But at the end of the day it’s over with now, and I just need to take some time to build on it and figure out what I can do better.”
But then the two bogeys on the home stretch opened the door for Morikawa, who embraced it with both arms. He made no mistake with his birdie putt from nine feet on the 17th to draw closer to Thomas. The leader served him up another opportunity with a bogey on the final hole and Morikawa secured a spot on the playoff with a par on the 72nd.
The 23 year old showed remarkable resilience under pressure, especially through those final three holes and then the playoff. But more importantly, the young man showed great temperament bouncing back from tepid start on Saturday, before working his way into the final group.
South African golfer MJ Daffue had a memorable week after coming through the Monday Qualifier. He shot 65 on Saturday to move inside the top ten before finishing the week at 8-under in T22.
Hovland made four birdies and a three bogeys in the final round for his third place finish. Chase Seiffert shot 67 and ended the week at 14-under. Gary Woodland was fifth with Ian Poulter at 12-under. Patrick Cantlay, Billy Horschel, Jason Day, Charley Hoffman, Russell Henley, Sam Ryder and Kevin Streelman rounded off the top ten at 11-under 277, eight strokes behind Thomas and Morikawa.