TULSA — When considering the horrors of 72nd holes at major tournaments that reveal golf’s limitless capacity for cruelty, Mito Pereira won’t rank among the most graphic. He did not roll up his trousers and wade into the water like Jean Van de Velde at the 1999 British Open. He did not send one caroming grotesquely off a tent like Phil Mickelson at the 2006 U.S. Open. He did not three-putt from 12 feet like Dustin Johnson at the 2015 U.S. Open.
He merely went to the 18th tee with a one-shot lead in his second-ever major and hit a drive he cannot understand toward a double bogey he must overcome.
“Yeah, low and straight,” he said. “I’m really confident with that one. I don’t know what happened.”
As it left the club and took its dastardly route, Pereira had not even considered the creek over yonder off the right of the fairway because, well, why should he? He had thought himself about to win because, well, why should he not? Then the shot went awry, all wretched and confusing, until it sat smack amid the sliver of water like some unruly little puppy.
“You want to win a golf tournament,” fresh champion Justin Thomas said in the early evening of Sunday as everyone tried to process what they thought they had seen. “You don’t want someone to lose it. And I think, I mean, I had many, not exactly like that, but I have had times in my career when I feel like I’ve let a tournament get away. And, I mean, it’s brutal.”
The hard, kind words tucked in that would be “not exactly like that.”
Up to then, the 27-year-old Chilean ranked 100th in the world had held on to a lead all bumpy day long, be it by three (at the outset), in a tie (at times) or by one (at No. 18), which came just after a near-birdie on the lip at No. 17 that could keep a person up nights. This fearless lover of motorcycles and fishing had surprised all but maybe himself, and he had introduced himself to many.
A steady riser who got his tour card in June 2021 by winning thrice on the minor league Korn Ferry Tour, Pereira had stayed in a house with his wife, Antonia, and others including chum and fellow Chilean Joaquin Niemann, a 23-year-old ranked 17th in the world who won on tour this year at mighty Riviera in Los Angeles. Appearing on CBS as Pereira played his back nine, Niemann told reporter Amanda Renner that around the house, “I try to act like this is not even happening.”
Even the 3 over for the round Pereira carried to No. 18 should have impressed, for this reason: “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 the third day, but the fourth day was terrible. I mean, this morning was tough. I don’t know; I mean, I just played it through and actually had a one-shot lead on 18 and that was pretty good — and sad to hit it in the water.”
Now it had joined the stream bed in the shallow water, only the fourth ball to venture there all day on the course’s toughest hole for the week. “The 18th is one of the toughest finishing holes in all golf,” runner-up Will Zalatoris said.
Now Pereira played it in a harrowing way, with a drop and a third shot needed from 190 yards. That one went over the green and onto the back fringe. A fourth shot went across the wicked-fast green and just over that ledge. A fifth shot, putted, pulled up four feet short.
A sixth shot plunked down as Pereira plunked down from 6 under to 4 under, from first place to tied for third. To Renner on CBS he said, “Maybe you have so much pressure on you that you don’t even know what you’re doing” — and he laughed somewhat.
Then a player down seven shots at dawn and eight at one point would win and would reveal the two had never crossed paths this week. “He played unbelievable golf this week,” Thomas said. “There’s no reason to hang his head. Yeah, I never saw him this week. I don’t really know him that well. I never got to talk to him or anything. But he played great.”