Weekly Recap: Thomas the Tank Engine

Weekly Recap: Thomas the Tank Engine

This article is part of our Weekly Recap series.

Greatness was expected from Justin Thomas and Jim "Bones" Mackay the moment the superstar golfer hired the superstar caddie to create a union that is as close as golf can get to a Hollywood royalty marriage.

After months of near-misses and countless why-haven't-they-wons, Thomas and Mackay finally produced their own celebrity offspring: the Wanamaker Trophy.

Thomas came from seven shots back at the start of the final round to force his way into a three-hole playoff with Will Zalatoris before winning his second PGA Championship and second major title on Sunday at brutally tough Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

It was the finest week of Thomas' already-Hall-of-Fame career, even better than when he won the PGA at Quail Hollow in 2017.

Thomas got stuck on the wrong end of the draw on Thursday and Friday (late/early) amid difficult and ever-changing weather conditions. After 36 holes, 14 of the top 16 golfers on the leaderboard came from the early/late wave; Thomas was one of the other two.

He began the final round in the fourth-to-last-pairing and shot 3-under 67 to beat every one of the other seven golfers in those final groups by at least four shots. Thomas and Zalatoris ended regulation at 5-under 275, and Thomas won the three-hole aggregate playoff by a shot thanks to birdies on the first two holes.

This type of result was supposed to be commonplace ever since the seismic late-September announcement that Thomas was replacing the only regular caddie he had ever

Greatness was expected from Justin Thomas and Jim "Bones" Mackay the moment the superstar golfer hired the superstar caddie to create a union that is as close as golf can get to a Hollywood royalty marriage.

After months of near-misses and countless why-haven't-they-wons, Thomas and Mackay finally produced their own celebrity offspring: the Wanamaker Trophy.

Thomas came from seven shots back at the start of the final round to force his way into a three-hole playoff with Will Zalatoris before winning his second PGA Championship and second major title on Sunday at brutally tough Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla.

It was the finest week of Thomas' already-Hall-of-Fame career, even better than when he won the PGA at Quail Hollow in 2017.

Thomas got stuck on the wrong end of the draw on Thursday and Friday (late/early) amid difficult and ever-changing weather conditions. After 36 holes, 14 of the top 16 golfers on the leaderboard came from the early/late wave; Thomas was one of the other two.

He began the final round in the fourth-to-last-pairing and shot 3-under 67 to beat every one of the other seven golfers in those final groups by at least four shots. Thomas and Zalatoris ended regulation at 5-under 275, and Thomas won the three-hole aggregate playoff by a shot thanks to birdies on the first two holes.

This type of result was supposed to be commonplace ever since the seismic late-September announcement that Thomas was replacing the only regular caddie he had ever had as a pro, Jimmy Johnson, with Mackay, probably the biggest name in the caddie universe this side of Stevie Williams.

The hiring of Mackay, who for years was the bag man for Phil Mickelson, paid off in full on Saturday night, just after Thomas had thought he had shot himself out of the tournament with a 74, apparently destined for the latest in a season-long parade of near-misses – six top-8s already in 2022. The caddie had a little chat with his down-in-the-dumps boss.

"I'm fully confident in saying that I wouldn't be standing here if he didn't give me that – wasn't necessarily a speech, but a talk, if you will," Thomas said in the aftermath of his first victory since THE PLAYERS Championship 14 months ago.

"I just needed to let some steam out. I didn't need to bring my frustration and anger home with me. I didn't need to leave the golf course in a negative frame of mind. I just went down – I played pretty well yesterday for shooting 4-over, and I felt like I'd played terrible. And he was just like, dude, you've got to stop being so hard on yourself. You're in contention every single week we're playing."

Thomas continued: "I've had a lot of chances to win tournaments, and it's a hard golf course; it's a major championship. You don't have to be perfect. Just don't be hard on yourself. Just kind of let stuff happen, and everything is trending in the right direction. So just keep staying positive so that good stuff can happen.

"I left here in an awesome frame of mind. It was very – I think the last player here, it was like this out right now, it was so peaceful. It was almost kind of eerie how beautiful it was outside, and there's not very many times after shooting 4-over on Saturday of a major I left in as good a frame of mind as I have."

So there you have the value of caddies in general and specifically Mackay. Of course, Thomas had to go out and play one of the best rounds of his life – and he still needed help in the form of a 72nd-hole meltdown from Mito Pereira. Candidly, it surely also helped Thomas that the top four guys on the leaderboard had never won a PGA Tour event, and none of the six in front of him had won a major.

Thomas is now up to fifth in the world, and suddenly it becomes easy to envision more titles and more majors from this superstar pairing. Thomas had already committed to this coming week's Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial, and knowing what we know about Thomas, and Mackay, they will keep that commitment. But that's not what we're talking about with more titles.

We're talking about the U.S. Open, which is just four weeks away at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Thomas might not be the betting favorite, but he'll be in the top two or three – at least in part because of the man who will be carrying his clubs.

MONDAY BACKSPIN

Will Zalatoris
Zalatoris was right there in a major again! In eight career majors, he has two runners-up and three other top-8s. If he wasn't the best golfer without a PGA Tour victory before this week, he surely is now, ranked 14th in the world. As good as Zalatoris played at Southern Hills, the U.S. Open might be even a better fit for his game.

Mito Pereira
Pereira was the best golfer in the tournament for 71 holes. At that point, he drove his ball in the water when all he needed was par to win and bogey to get into the playoff. He double-bogeyed. This loss will sting perhaps more than any other in his career, but so much good happened for Pereira this week. He's up to 49th in the field and qualified for the next two majors (next four, actually, as he'll get into the Masters and PGA based on his tie for third). But we don't think Pereira will have any trouble playing in every major for quite some time. (Soon after submitting the PGA Championship Value Meter, ranking every guy in the field, we realized we had made a terrible mistake by picking Pereira to miss the cut. The next day, Sunday, he completed another great week at the Byron Nelson. He was playing very well and we just whiffed. There was nothing we could do about the Value Meter, but Pereira was in some lineups, and they cashed.)
 
Cameron Young
A fatal double bogey on the 16th hole ended Young's chances, but this guy keeps having great weeks. He's finished 3rd-2nd-3rd in his past three starts, and he had another runner-up earlier in 2022. Young meteorically is up to 30th in the world as a rookie of the PGA Tour.

Matt Fitzpatrick
As the most experienced golfer among the top four on the leaderboard entering Sunday, this could've been Fitzpatrick's time. It should've been. But he bogeyed No. 1 and was chasing all day, ending up in a three-way tie for 5th. To say that Fitzpatrick, who is up to a career-high 15th in the world rankings, will one day win a major would be premature; he may never have as good of a chance as he had on Sunday. Just a huge disappointment, for him and his backers.

Tommy Fleetwood
Fleetwood very quietly made his way into the top-5 with a 69-67 weekend, continuing some very strong play. He's now made eight straight cuts and six of them have been top-25s.

Chris Kirk, Brendan Steele, Tom Hoge and Seamus Power
These players all had their best career major finishes, all top-10s. Kirk tied for fifth and the others tied for ninth. A top-4 would've got Kirk into next year's Masters but all of them ensured return trips to the PGA next year.

Rory McIlroy
Oy, where to start. McIlroy could be an entire chapter of a book at every major. If he only could get off to a good start? Well, this time he did. He shot 65 on Thursday and was on the good side of the draw. After almost shooting himself out of the tournament on Friday and Saturday, he got hot early on Sunday, birdieing four of the first five holes. He actually was closer to the lead at the start of the back nine than Thomas. He played the back in 1-over and finished solo eighth. Another backdoor top-10? Not really, though we're not really sure what it was, other than another great week in a major – but not great enough.

Max Homa
Homa is now two for two in made cuts in majors this season, and his tie for 13th was by far his best ever in a major.  Just another sign of a very good player getting even better.

Rickie Fowler
A top-25 for Fowler, tying for 23rd. That's two top-25s in a row. Baby steps.

Jordan Spieth
Spieth entered the week playing very well, the course setup was favorable to him and he even was on the right side of the draw. And he never got anything going. Playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, McIlroy waxed him on Thursday by seven shots. This was perhaps the best chance to complete the grand slam Spieth will ever see. He tied for 34th.

Viktor Hovland
This was Hovland's 10th career major. Not a large sample size, for sure. But he has yet to record a top-10. He tied for 41st and it's hard to envision him contending on a course where scrambling is critical. He could fare much better at the U.S. Open next month, though we don't have details on course setup at The Country Club.

Jon Rahm
Rahm tied for 48th. Don't let the recent win at Mexico fool you. He's not the same guy he was in past years, almost entirely because his short game has abandoned him.

Brooks Koepka
The storyline that Koepka plays well only in the majors is starting to lose its oomph. After missing the cut at the Masters for the second straight year, he played four nondescript rounds at Southern Hills, fading even further on Sunday, and he tied for 55th.

Collin Morikawa
Morikawa had another bad week, tying for 55th in what's becoming a lost year for a golfer who appeared slump-proof thanks to the world's best iron game. Of course, he's good enough to turn it around quickly, even this week at Colonial. But if the season continues as it has been, Morikawa's schedule surely will come into question. Colonial will be only his fourth "regular" PGA Tour tournament and seventh overall. He did finish second at Riviera and fifth at Augusta but didn't seriously contend in either.

Dustin Johnson
Johnson missed the cut, which followed very good weeks at THE PLAYERS (T9) and the Masters (T12). Maybe DJ is settling into a period of mediocrity, at least as defined for a longtime No. 1 player in the world. Is he capable of being the old J in a given week? It seems like that. But maybe the sustained excellence is over for someone now ranked 13th, who hasn't won on Tour in 18 months, is about to turn 38 years old and recently got married.

Patrick Cantlay
Cantlay won four times on Tour last season, or twice if you don't want to use asterisks, but he seems light years from winning a major. Cantlay missed the cut by a lot, his third MC in his past six majors and his 11th in a row without even a top-10.

Scottie Scheffler
Yes, it was a stunner that the hottest player on the planet couldn't even make the cut on what he said was his favorite course. But no matter how good Scheffler was going, he's not Tiger Woods circa 2001 and was bound to cool off. He also was on the wrong half of the draw. Scheffler gets right back in action this week at Colonial.

Tiger Woods
One can only imagine how much pain Woods was in to withdraw with 18 holes to go. So imagine what a titanic accomplishment it was for him to make the cut, even being on the right side of the draw. As happened at the Masters, the wheels came off on Saturday and, a few hours later, Woods announced he would not play Sunday. At this point, the U.S. Open in four weeks is in serious doubt, and the feeling is we won't see Woods till the Open Championship in July.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Len Hochberg
Len Hochberg has covered golf for RotoWire since 2013. A veteran sports journalist, he was an editor and reporter at The Washington Post for many years. He was named 2020 "DFS Writer of the Year" by the FSWA and was nominated for the same award in 2019.
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