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TEE TO GREEN, STEVE SCOTT: Southern Hills was a real slow burner, and other points from the PGA Championship

Justin Thomas gets a grip on the Wanamaker after his win at Southern Hills.
Justin Thomas gets a grip on the Wanamaker after his win at Southern Hills.

It didn’t need much on Sunday’s finale of the PGA Championship for the mind to drift back to 23 years ago, and a dreich July day less than 10 miles away from where I’m writing this.

The similarities went a lot further than simply Justin Thomas making the biggest comeback in a major since The Open of 1999.

Poor weather, spoiled golfers moaning about a course deemed too difficult, the perception from some that the whole tournament was “boring”…

Southern Hills was a slow burner, and you have to prefer that to a runaway or a procession. Although frequently disparaged (guilty!) as the acknowledged “fourth major”, the PGA has done a reasonable job in arriving at exciting finishes lately, and this was certainly one.

Like Carnoustie, we soon won’t remember that the three and a half days that preceded the finish was a bit of a slog. Given the Masters was a somewhat dull procession for Scottie Scheffler, the PGA has a handy early lead in being the best major of 2022.

Justin Thomas answers his critics

You wonder if absent Phil Mickelson was watching in San Diego as his former caddie Jim “Bones” McKay guided Thomas to the title.

Alan Shipnuck’s book on Phil has finally unveiled why the closest player-caddie relationship in golf ended.

Mickelson didn’t pay the man what he was due, which gives a flavour of Phil’s Jekyll and Hyde character. Given to spontaneous bouts of lavish generosity – not always later related by his PR people – Phil at the same time was stiffing his most faithful lieutenant.

Thomas publicly credited Bones for a Saturday night pep talk, and said he wouldn’t be holding the Wanamaker Trophy if McKay hadn’t been there.

But JT should take all the credit. He had his wobbly moments over the weekend, but he absolutely delivered on the demands of those (again, guilty!) saying he needed another major win to cement his status.

I’ve always found him to be a witty and engaging interview, far removed from the country club/son of a pro template he might seem to be.

He’s probably closer to Tiger Woods than most of his peers. You’d like to think – and it’s certainly possible – that relationship has helped soften Tiger’s public persona in recent times.

No doubt he gets to pick Tiger’s brain as an added benefit. It was notable Tiger took to social media to congratulate Justin, which is definitely not his usual practice.

Just one horrible swing

Mito Pereira played pretty cannily until the 72nd hole.

“He doesn’t look nervous” – scores of times you heard this said on TV or on social media about Mito Pereira over his long weekend in the lead at Southern Hills.

Who can see past the outer shell? Scottie Scheffler looked almost languid at Augusta, but reported afterwards of sleepless nights and tears of self-doubt when leading the Masters over three days.

Hindsight makes everything different. Almost everyone now says Jean van der Velde looked in turmoil on the 18th tee in 1999 with a three-shot lead. I don’t recall anyone saying that at the time, and I was in a tent with 900 other smart-alec journalists that day.

Unlike Jean’s catalogue of calamities, it all came down to just one horrible swing on the 72nd tee. Pereira – like Jean has done admirably his whole life since 1999 – fronted up and talked it through. Really, it was just one bad decision, just at the moment most focus was on him.

There will be other times, he said. You certainly hope so.

Long way to go, but Henrik’s short on options

Am I the only one getting a little nervous about Henrik Stenson’s choices for the Ryder Cup in Rome?

It seems a fair swathe of the old guard will be gone, either pastured out or declaring themselves persona non grata with LIV Golf. That’s okay because we needed a new guard anyway.

Only, where are they? I’d reckon Stenson needs at least three fresh-faced rookies for his team next year, and the only uncapped European to make even a dent in the top 20 at Southern Hills was Ireland’s Seamus Power.

Now, granted Europe has had an exemplary record blooding unlikely players as Ryder Cup giants – sometimes, even for just that one week. Also, it’s still 15 months away, so no real need to panic.

But you’d like to see some of the European young guns kick on in championships like this. Because the US seem to have 20-25 guys for their team.

Tiger’s reality check

Opinions on Tiger Woods are almost always feast or famine these days. Some go from entertaining fantasies about winning in his current condition, to him being done forever when he withdrew from the PGA after 54 holes.

It showed nothing but there are limitations to even Tiger’s formidable resilience, pain threshold and refusal to quit.

After Saturday’s unhappy toil, I think most were relieved. As WC Fields once said, `if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it’.

It’s a setback to his rehabilitation, but if anything just a marker for him to know what he’s capable of – and at the moment, that’s not a full-field major championship on a tough walking course.

You’d certainly hope now he doesn’t entertain the thought of next month’s US Open but focuses on being as ready as he can be for the Open at St Andrews.

That will be full field and those will be long days – five and a half hours, easy – but the longest climb on the Old Course is the ten steps up to the clubhouse from the 18th green.

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