Justin Thomas joins elite group who’ve won a Major from outside the top six with 18 holes to play

In the last 25 years only five golfers have overcome such a pre-final round position.

Major Championship are difficult to win and the stats back that up.

We remember the stirring final rounds on Sunday and it often creates the impression that it's a common occurrence.

In point of fact, Justin Thomas, who was triumphant last week in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, was one of the exceptions that prove the rule that the eventual winner needs to be tied sixth or better heading into the final round (he was just the fifth Major winner in the last 25 years to win from that position).

The Kentucky man was seven shots back after 54 holes - the largest final round comeback since the 1999 Open. He also tied the tournament's record final round comeback.

The odd thing is that to mention, ahead of a Major final round, that anyone outside the top six are in a difficult position is often to invite anger.

"XX can still win it, that's nonsense," type-thing.

It's an interesting business because there's an assumption that such stats have only one dimension, that it is only being used for predictions ahead of the final round.

The person who wants to believe that a player outside the top six can still win is usually a big fan of the said player.

If that player does go on to defy history (and win from outside the top six) the fan has inadvertently lessened the achievement, by saying all along that something very difficult is actually rather more common place and achievable.

Much better, surely, to be aware that to win from outside the top six is a fiendish prospect. Suddenly there is context and perspective: we can appreciate just what the golfer has overcome to lift the trophy.

Let's take a look at the four men who preceded Thomas and make up the Famous Five of the last 25 years.

Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie in 1999

This was the year that the Open returned to the famous layout north of Dundee and the set up so difficult it was immediately renamed 'Car-nasty'. In fact, it was so nasty the then-teenage Sergio Garcia was left crying in his mum's arms.

Lawrie headed into the final lap 10 blows back of the lead and in a tie for 14th, but he carded a 67 to set a tough clubhouse target.

What of those ahead of him on Saturday night? From tied second, Justin Leonard matched his 72-hole total with a 72 and Craig Parry was left one adrift after a 73. David Frost, Tiger Woods and Andrew Coltart has been tied fourth - they carded 74, 74 and 77.

From tied seventh Angel Cabrera and Greg Norman totalled 70 and 72. And those tied ninth? Colin Montgomerie had a 74, Bernhard Langer and Frank Nobilo 75s, Miguel Angel Martin a 76 and Len Mattiace a 78.

But what of the pre-round leader Jean Van de Velde? He had been five clear and was still in command on the 18th tee, but it famously went horribly wrong, he ultimately needed 10 blows more than Lawrie, and the Scot pounced in extra holes.

Angel Cabrera at Oakmont in 2007

The Argentinian golfer had shared the first round lead, gone one clear after 36 holes and then fell four back, into a share of seventh, after a Saturday 76 at a brutal Oakmont.

But his Sunday 69 was one of only two sub-70 scores in the final round and also made him the only man to break par twice in the tournament. It also set a bar too high for those who had ended Saturday ahead of him on the leaderboard.

Aaron Baddeley had led the field but lurched home in 80 while his final round playing partner Tiger Woods failed to take advantage, only adding a 72.

Four men had shared third but none could break 74. Bubba Watson equalled that number but Stephen Ames, Paul Casey and Justin Rose needed 76.

Webb Simpson at Olympic Club in 2012

The American was tied eighth after three rounds, but just four blows back.

He had carded a Saturday 68 and he repeated that score on Sunday, the only man to go sub-70 twice at the weekend, and as a consequence he set a target no-one could match.

The men he beat? There were three US Open winners and a couple of tournament specialists in there.

Graeme McDowell and Jim Furyk had shared the 54 hole lead and responded with 73 and 74. Freddie Jacobsen had been third and had a 75.

Four men had shared fourth: Ernie Els had a 72, Lee Westwood a 73, Blake Adams a 75 and Nicolas Colsaerts a 76.

Phil Mickelson at Muirfield in 2012

A winner of the Scottish Open a week before, the American's links pedigree was still sniffed at by the aficionados who didn't like his fondness for lob wedge.

He played well in the first three rounds but was tied ninth and five back of the lead on a high quality leaderboard.

But he then played a round of such quality that the man himself and his caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay - also on the bag when Thomas won last week - rated it among his very best. He signed for a 68 on a tinder dry Muirfield layout and then watched as those ahead of him on Saturday night saw their hopes go up in smoke.

Pre-round leader Lee Westwood needed 75 shots, while Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan, who had shared second, took 74 and 75, and Adam Scott, who had been fourth, had a 72.

Of those sharing fifth Henrik Stenson fared best with a 70 to land second place, Zach Johnson a 72, Angel Cabrera (him again!) had a 74 and Ryan Moore a 79.

Who was best?

Can we rank the five? Why not, even just for the fun of it.

Lawrie comes top: he had more players to overtake, a bigger deficit to overhaul, and he bettered a ferocious course, Tiger Woods and a host of Open champions.

Second is Mickelson: he proved he could win on the linksland, did so in elite company, on the finest Open rota test, and when needing to keep the pedal to the metal.

Third is Simpson who was supreme over the weekend in San Francisco when reeling in a fine collection of US Open winners.

Cabrera grabs fourth for defeating Oakmont, Woods and two other Major winners.

So Thomas is ranked fifth. He is placed there because the dozen players he passed were all non-Major winners and only two had won on the PGA Tour (and in both cases just once).

It can't be helped that it means he is also last - but he is last in a list of five men who achieved something extraordinary.

READ MORE: US PGA Championship: Justin Thomas rallies to score dramatic playoff win in Tulsa

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