TULSA, Okla. – Behind the 18th green at Southern Hills late Sunday afternoon stood a group of Mito Pereira supporters, friends and family, and at this moment they were there to console rather than cheer.
Their man had just double-bogeyed the 18th hole to lose the PGA Championship, an excruciating end to what had been an exciting and invigorating tournament for the Chilean golfer who was making his first appearance in the event.
What was there to say at that point?
Pereira, 27, had or been in the lead or tied all day. He was one roll short of a breathing-room birdie at the 17th. He found water at the 18th and all of a sudden it was gone.
Celebration turned to sadness.
“It would have been nicer if I had won, but it was nice to see all the guys there,’’ he said.
Among them in the parking lot were countryman Joaquin Niemann along with Abraham Ancer and Sebastian Munoz.
Again. What was there to say at that point?
Pereira, playing in just his 27th PGA Tour event, had that 18th-hole meltdown that was painful to watch, signing for a final-round 75 that allowed Justin Thomas to rally from seven strokes back to win in a playoff over Will Zalatoris.
It wasn’t Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie, making such a mess of the 18th final hole in 1999 that he hit a shot off a grandstand, hit another into the water and had to play yet another from a bunker, making a triple-bogey 7. At least Van de Velde made the playoff that he later lost to Paul Lawrie.
It was probably closer to Phil Mickelson in 2006 at Winged Foot, where an errant tee shot led to a double bogey and missing a playoff by a shot at the U.S. Open.
Pereira had a one-shot lead over eventual winner Justin Thomas and playoff loser Will Zalatoris when he stepped to the tee and quickly and awkwardly swung hard at his driver, pushing it right and watching it bound into a creek that wanders across the fairway.
It was a horrendous mistake at such a crucial time.
“I wasn’t even thinking about the water,’’ Pereira said. “I just wanted to put it in play, and I guess I aimed too far right. I just hit it in the water.’’
A day earlier, Pereira said he had a similar approach on the hole, hitting a 300-yard drive into the fairway and then an approach from 214 yards to 27 feet. He holed that putt for a birdie to get to 9 under par, giving himself a three-shot lead over Matt Fitzpatrick and Zalatoris after 54 holes.
Getting a bigger advantage was important, but sleeping on that lead proved difficult.
Scottie Scheffler admitted last month that on the morning of the final round of the Masters he cried, not knowing how he would handle such a moment. He had just come off of three victories in the previous two months, and was ranked No. 1 in the world.
Imagine the emotions for Pereira, on nobody’s list of favorites coming into the week, ranked 100th in the world and having played in just one previous major championship.
And he admitted he was nervous.
“I thought I was nervous the first day,’’ Pereira said. “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, this morning was tough.’’
Pereira made his way to the PGA Tour in rare fashion, earning a promotion last year and for the 2021-22 season by winning three times on the Korn Ferry Tour. He also, along with Niemann, represented Chile at the Olympics in Tokyo, where he lost in a playoff for the bronze medal.
“His whole game was just a little bit off today,’’ said caddie Scott McGuinness, who started working with Pereira in late March. “He wasn’t tense, he was in great spirits. He hit a huge drive on 17 and it (his putt) was one roll away from winning a major. So close.’’
Pereira made a double, five bogeys and two birdies. But had he got that putt to drop on the 17th, his plight at 18 would have been far easier. With a two-shot lead, he could have played to the fat part of the fairway. He might have taken out a 3-wood and even played for a bogey 5.
But needing a par to win, the only play was a driver, and unlike a day earlier, he hit it far right and found the water. From there, he had 190 yards left and still had a chance to make a bogey that would get him in the playoff.
The ball traveled over the green, leaving a tough pitch that he could only get to 22 feet. He needed two putts from there and – just like that – it was over.
“I told him to hold his head high, learn from it,’’ McGuinness said. “Next time you’re in that situation you’re going to be way better. It’s all experience. He’s a great talent. He’s going to be a world-beater. He’ll bounce back from this.’’
With his tie for third, Pereira earned a spot in his first Masters next year and return trip to the PGA Championship. He also moved to 49th in the Official World Golf Ranking, with Monday the cutoff for top 60 (U.S. Open) and top 50 (British Open).
That means he’s earned a spot in each of the next four majors.
Perhaps that is the consolation that will come with time.
“You’re in such a stressful situation,’’ he said. “Everything can change. Just got to learn how to do it better. Keep training for it, and like I said, I didn’t feel that good today. I just played it through but it was a tough day.’’