PGA Day 3: The good, bad, and ugly–Oak Hill bites back
The quality of play was all over the board at Oak Hill on Saturday during what turned out to be a very interesting and entertaining round 3 of the PGA Championship. That Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are now completely out of it will mean nothing to true fans of the major championships, though I doubt the brass at CBS Sports feel the same way! (ratings down)
Jim Furyk has put his poor record in the majors this year in the rear view mirror and is a very surprising 54-hole leader at -9. Many including this observer felt that the 2012 heartbreaks he endured made future contention in majors not as likely and going into this event there was little reason to think otherwise. Furyk fired his second straight 68 after an opening 65 and also now has the rare opportunity to post four rounds in the 60s in a major.
An impressive birdie-par finish to the round can only enhance his confidence. After two perfect shots into 17, the hardest hole on the course, a poor drive on 18 left Furyk with barely a view of the green. He barely even managed to get to the fairway in two but his third left him nicely below the hole and in position for a clutch par save to keep the momentum going. Jim’s dad is a Club Professional and it’s likely that a PGA Championship would mean more to him than any other title would right now. A Wanamaker Trophy would look oh-so-good next to his US Open trophy and a win here would also mean a serious elevation in how his career is assessed and ranked.
Furyk will be paired with the enigmatic Jason Dufner who combined steady golf with wild golf and effective mid-range putting with turn-your-head short putting. Dufner finished with one of those “I thought I missed it but somehow it fell” putts on 18 to manage a 71 after yesterday’s 63 and managed to stay in the final pairing on Sunday. Dufner sits one behind Furyk at -8.
Adam Scott, likely the 36-hole favorite if not the leader, had the most head-scratching day. He followed perfect swings where he looked like nothing less than the best player in the world with squirrel-y ones that you just don’t expect from the Masters Champion, and vice-versa. A perfectly-played birdie on 1 was followed by two straight bogeys. A missed fairway with an iron off the tee on 13 was followed with a makeable eagle putt on 14 after an amazing drive, which was followed by a sloppy double-bogey on 16. A great par save on 17 may have saved his chances on Sunday and Scott now sits at -5, just 4 back.
Scott will be paired with Steve Stricker who at age 46 has rather quietly put himself in with a chance to be the oldest first-time major champion, surpassing Roberto de Vicenzo who won his Open at Hoylake at age 44. But in between the Scott/Stricker and Furyk/Dufner groups are two who have gone about their business even more quietly. Only those who look for Swedes would have even noticed that Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt sit in third and fourth place respectively and they will form a very comfortable-for-them Sunday penultimate pairing. Stenson has been close like this before, most recently just three weeks ago at Muirfield, but he is going to have to contend all the way to the end one time before his name attracts the attention of others near the top of major championship leaderboards.
Rory McIlroy (67), Dustin Johnson (65), and Lee Westwood (68) all posted outstanding rounds and though they sit 6 and 7 shots back, not many players sit between them and Furyk so a 63-65 type round of their own still would leave them with outside chances. The same can’t be said for Matt Kuchar (76) and Justin Rose (77) who went the other way with Oak Hill showing its true quality in the cooler, drier air. The course promises to play even tougher on Sunday and with holes like 5 (where Tom Kite made triple as the 54-hole leader in the US Open) and 15 (where pin position “C”, the one closest to water’s edge, was predictably chosen by the public), disaster awaits the wayward swing and with that kind of trouble lurking, this PGA Championship is still wide open.