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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Chile’s Pereira 6. A missed opportunity in PGA history with the conclusion of

TULSA, Okla. ( Associated Press) — Cheers reverberated in the Andes.

They were silenced by the splash of a small white ball in a shady creek half a world away.

Mito Pereira’s foul tee shot on the final hole of regulation at the PGA Championship on Sunday in Southern Hills sent the Tour rookie to a double-bogie 6, erasing his one-stroke lead and knocking him out of the playoffs.

When Pereira’s bogey putt slipped across the hole, Chile’s first major championship was lost. So did a career Grand Slam for South America. Justin Thomas defeated Will Zalatoris in a three-hole playoff to claim the Wanamaker Trophy.

“Today I was very nervous. I tried to handle it a bit but it is really tough,” Pereira said. “I thought I was going to win at 18, but it is what it is. We’ll have another one.”

The pressure was building. At the start of the final round, Perera took a three-stroke lead. After his fourth bogey of the day, he leveled for the lead with six holes to play. But he birdied in the 13th hole of par 5 and still led by a stroke, he put a 13-foot birdie put at number 17.

The putt was tracking towards the hole but stopped at the edge of the cup.

Pereira tapped for the equalizer and headed to the final tee box to counter his nerves and the giant gallery led down the fairway to the green.

“I thought I was nervous on the first day. Then I thought I was nervous on the second day. Then I thought I was nervous on the third day.” He said, “But the fourth day was terrible.”

The 490-yard, par-4 18th played out throughout the week as one of the toughest holes in the Southern Hills. Pereira could play it safe with a long iron or fairway wood away from the tee. Instead he chose the driver and an awkward swing, and the follow-through sent his ball to the right and into the creek.

He probably knew the result from the groans of the gallery.

“It hurt to hit it in the water,” Pereira said. “I mean, I wish I could do it again.”

Phil Mickelson on the winged foot in 2006 was the last player to lose a Major with a double bogey on the closing hole – and, like Pereira, the lefty hit an unnecessary driver at No.

Latin American players have a rich history in golf, but few have participated in major championships. Only two, both from Argentina, have won: Roberto de Vicenzo with two shots over Jack Nicklaus at the 1967 British Open in Hoylec, and ngel Cabrera, who won the US Open in 2007 and the Masters two years later.

Pereira led a roster of six South Americans at this year’s PGA Championship who could become a consistent force in the sport’s biggest tournament yet.

His career was progressing slowly before making headlines in the PGA.

He was a junior star in Chile when he left the country for IMG Academy in Florida, then left the sport for two years to renew his interest. After taking his clubs out of the garage, he played a year at Texas Tech before turning professional in 2015 at the age of 20.

Pereira was the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year in 2021. His biggest stage before this week was the Tokyo Olympics, where he lost a playoff for the bronze medal.

Countryman Joaquin Niemann, who finished 23rd, was beaming with pride as his friend took the lead in ninth.

“You look back, three, four years ago, nobody talked about golf (in Chile), and now the whole country is watching TV that Mito is leading the PGA Championship,” Nieman said, While Pereira was still leading. “It’s a major one, and yes, it’s going to be something big, and I think he’s going to be of great help to the sport in Chile and Latin America.”

Half an hour later, Neiman was sitting near the 18th green, wiping his face and checking his phone as the last groups arrived. After Pereira’s playoff exit, she and Neiman greeted each other with smiles and shook hands.

Keegan Bradley was the last PGA Tour rookie to win a Major at the 2011 PGA Championship.

“Mito is a sweet kid. A really cool, down-to-earth kid,” said Matt Fitzpatrick, who played in the final group with Pereira and closed with 73.

“When that happens, it’s hard to take it. You hope it’s not you, and it’s hard to watch,” Fitzpatrick said. “He ends up with a par and won the PGA. You definitely feel for him, and I’m sure he’ll have plenty of chances again.”


More Associated Press Golf: https://apnews.com/hub/golf and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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