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Thomas makes the circle bigger





A cynic would probably say that the 12 seconds in which Justin Thomas's ball hovered over the lip of the 10th hole on Sunday encapsulated the inferiority of the PGA Championship to other majors.

Certainly, when compared with Tiger Woods' chip at 16 at Augusta in 2005, or Seve's putt at the final hole of the Open in 1984, it's fair to say that there weren’t quite the same pulsating levels of drama.

However, let's not sell short what was still a very entertaining week's golf. And what a story for a third-generation PGA Tour pro, who, while watching this event in his home state of Kentucky at Valhalla in 2000 at the age of seven with his dad, got an autograph from his hero Jack Nicklaus and saw Tiger Woods hole that crucial putt to deny Bob May. He now finds his name etched alongside both gentlemen on the Wanamaker Trophy.

There was no shortage of intrigue throughout the week either. Well into the late afternoon of the final round, no fewer than five men shared the lead at 7-under. And incidentally, not one of them had won a major title before. It wasn't until after Thomas's barnstorming run of four birdies around the turn vaguely coincided with the unravelling of Messrs Matsuyama and Kisner that the likely winner even began to become clear.

In fact, from holes 36 to 65, my money was firmly on Matsuyama. I was convinced he'd have enough to get over the line. After shooting 61 last Sunday, he told bemused journalists that he was nervous all the way round, as he didn't feel like he was hitting the ball well and "wasn't sure of my swing". It seemed a remarkable comment at the time, but it's fair to say he wasn't quite at his fluent best at Quail Hollow. Perhaps it was the combination of fighting his swing, and the unimaginable pressures of trying to become the first Japanese to win a major, which did it for him.

As for Louis Oosthuizen, who has (hopefully temporarily) confirmed his place as one of golf's bridesmaids with a Grand Slam of runner-up finishes, there is much to be optimistic about. Based on what relatively little coverage was shown of him, his putter seemed lukewarm, but his ball striking supreme. His time will come again, and he reminded us at the 15th with that delightful pitch that those X-factor moments still lie within.

But if you want to talk about X-factor, there are few more explosive to watch than Thomas. He may not be everyone's cup of tea, but he is a player who lives every moment on the course. He rides the highs like a crest of a wave, and yet when things have gone awry, he makes little effort to hide his displeasure. His demonstrable nature; his high-energy swing, outrageous power, even the purpose with which he strides around the course - it all makes for compelling viewing.

His form in recent weeks has been patchy, hence his victory will probably have been a winner for bookmakers. But let us not forget just how good this 24-year old is. Three other PGA Tour wins this season, a 59 at the Sony Open, a top 10 at the US Open, and now this. While watching him stand next to the 18th green at Birkdale to congratulate his mate Jordan Spieth, and with the Texan momentarily (and of course accidentally) ghosting him as he made his way to the scorer's hut, I had this fleeting, ignorant sensation of Thomas being Spieth's sidekick; a close friend who would inevitably spend a career in his shadow. Not only has he blasted such inept analysis out of the water, he's sounded out a warning to all his colleagues too.

Professional golf is now dominated by a growing bunch of young guns, and Thomas is very much one of them. For those like me who grew up in awe of Tiger for over a decade, and seeing a superstar transcend the sport with barely-human abilities, it doesn't come naturally to see such a swelling pool of major contenders, and to have to continually wax lyrical about new entrants to the elite circle that is golf's list of major winners.

Yet, in their own unique way, players like Thomas are pioneering a golden era of their own. Will any of them ever individually reach the levels Tiger soared at? Perhaps not. But they're extraordinary performers of their craft all the same, and the competition is so fierce that they will keep driving each other to new heights.

Spieth, McIlroy et al may have desires to become Grand Slam, double-digit major winners one day. But their path to greatness is not preordained, and each time they step out there, they're going to have to get past the likes of Thomas first.


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