TULSA, Okla. – As Mito Pereira stood in the interview area in a tent at Southern Hills Country Club on Sunday, TVs to his left and right showed Justin Thomas and Will Zalatoris preparing for a playoff in the 104th PGA Championship.
After Pereira answered a couple of questions, someone had enough sense to turn the TVs off.
Less than half an hour earlier, Pereira stood on the tee box of the 18th hole holding a one-shot lead over Thomas and Zalatoris. Had Pereira carded a par on the final hole, he would have become the first man from Chile to win a major championship and the first PGA Tour rookie to win one in 11 years.
Instead, Pereira pushed his tee shot into a creek on the right side of the fairway. After taking a drop and one-shot penalty, he blasted his approach shot over the green. He still had a chance to make the playoff if he could get up and down. His chip shot rolled off the green. He needed two putts from there and made a double-bogey 6. He finished tied for third at 4 under.
Pereira, 27, entered the final round at 9 under and had a 3-shot lead. He shot 5-over 75 on Sunday.
“Obviously, sad to be here and not in the playoff, not make par, just straight win,” Pereira said. “On 18, I wasn’t even thinking about the water. I just wanted to put it in play, and I guess I aimed too far right. I just hit in the water. … I mean, I wish I could do it again.”
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Pereira is the third player over the last 20 years to double-bogey the 72nd hole in a major and finish 1 shot out of a playoff. Phil Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie both did it on the 72nd hole of the 2006 US Open.
Pereira, who is 100th in the Official World Golf Ranking, said he made the same swing on No. 18 that he had the day before, when he blasted his drive down the middle. He was trying to hit a low, hard cut but didn’t follow through like a traditional swing.
“I was feeling the same,” Pereira said. “I wasn’t like really different. It was like that all day. I mean, I thought I was nervous the first day. Then I thought I was nervous the second day. Then I thought I was nervous on the third day but the fourth day was terrible. I mean, [Sunday] morning was tough.”
Pereria barely missed a 12 ½-foot birdie putt on the par-4 17th hole that would have given him a 2-shot cushion.
Despite the crushing defeat, Pereira hopes his breakthrough performance in just his second start in a major will propel him to big things in the future. He was consoled after the round by his family and fellow PGA Tour pros Abraham Ancer, Sebastian Munoz and Joaquin Niemann.
“It’s not how I wanted to end up this week, but really good result,” Pereira said. “Played really good. [Sunday], I was really nervous. I tried to handle it a little bit but it’s really tough. I thought I was going to win on 18, but it is what it is. We’ll have another one.”
England’s Matt Fitzpatrick, who played with Pereira and shot 3-over 73 and finished tied for fifth, felt bad about the way it ended.
“Mito is a lovely kid, and we got talking down the second and he’s just a really nice, down-to-earth kid,” Fitzpatrick said. “When that happens, it is tough to take. You hope it’s not you, and it’s tough to see. He finishes with a par and he’s won the US PGA. You definitely feel for him, and I’m sure he’ll have many chances again.”