Séamus Power gets one of those shots dropped on 2 back at 4. He wedges to 15 feet and calmly rolls in the putt. He’s -2. Meanwhile back on 3, Mito Pereira bumps a good-looking chip up onto the green to five feet, but his putt lips out on the right. Matt Fitzpatrick makes his par easily enough, and the gap between the two players is reduced to three … and Pereira’s lead is suddenly just one, because up on 4, Will Zalatoris knocks his approach to four feet and tickles in the birdie putt!
-8: Pereira (3)
-7: Zalatoris (4)
-5: Young (3), Fitzpatrick (3)
-3: McIlroy (11), Herbert (7), Simpson (6), Ancer (4)
Will Zalatoris is this close to draining a 45-footer across 3. One dimple away from dropping. He remains at -6. Par too for his partner Cameron Young, who stays at -5. Meanwhile back on 3, Mito Pereira sends his drive into thick rough down the right. He’s fairly fortunate not to be blocked out by trees. He had a couple of lucky bounces yesterday, the sort that even the best of them need to win major championships. This is another … though he’s only able to advance his ball 140 yards up the fairway, a little short of the green. A big up and down coming up for the leader. Fitzpatrick meanwhile finds the green in regulation, but he’s not within realistic birdie range.
Webb Simpson only just made the cut, but he’s enjoying his weekend. He shot a superb 65 yesterday, and he’s building on that good work today with birdies at 4 and 5. He joins the group in a tie for fifth at -3.
McIlroy is fast running out of holes. Another long birdie putt stops a little short, this time on 10, and he remains at -3. Meanwhile back on 2, Pereira leaves himself just short of the green in two, but takes a putter from the fringe and lags up to kick-in distance. He remains at -9. A fuss-free par-par start for the leader, who looks extremely calm. He’s surely churning inside as he negotiates uncharted waters. Par for Fitzpatrick as well; he remains four off at -5.
Disaster for Séamus Power on 2. He sends his tee shot into the drink down the left of the fairway, and he ends up with a double bogey six. He drops to -1. Better news for Cameron Young in the match behind. He booms a big drive down the fairway, knocks his second to ten feet, and makes the putt for a bounceback birdie. He’s -5 again. And back-to-back bogeys for Tommy Fleetwood, at 7 and 8, and all of his early good work is undone. He’s back to level par.
McIlroy clips his wedge on 9 pin high, but pulls the ten-foot birdie putt he leaves himself. He’s still turning in 32, but hopes of the title are getting ever more faint. He can’t afford to pass up these chances. He remains at -3. Meanwhile back on 1, Fitzpatrick gets relief from a nearby TV tower, and does well to chip up to 12 feet. He can’t make the par saver, and he opens with bogey. A solid, nerve-settling, two-putt par for Pereira.
-9: Pereira (1)
-6: Zalatoris (1)
-5: Fitzpatrick (1)
-4: Young (1)
-3: McIlroy (9), Herbert (5), Ancer (2)
Fitzpatrick has a route to the green, but he’s in deep rough, from which he gets a flyer. His ball disappears over the back of the green. A testing up and down coming up. Pereira by contrast finds the heart of the green in the fuss-free fashion. Meanwhile Davis Riley holes out from a bunker on 6 to move to -1.
Turns out that Cameron Young didn’t get over the fairway bunker with his opening tee shot, and he’s forced to take his medicine by laying up. This results in an opening bogey. Par meanwhile for Will Zalatoris. There’s also another near miss for birdie for Rory McIlroy, this time on the par-three 8th, his 45-footer just wide left.
-6: Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris (1)
-4: Young (1)
-3: McIlroy (8), Herbert (4), Ancer (1), Power (1)
The leader Mito Pereira tees off. Any sign of nerves? Nope! He splits the fairway. He’s going round in the final pairing with Matt Fitzpatrick. Can he become only the second Englishman to win the PGA, after Jim Barnes in 1916 and 1919? Well, it’s not an ideal start, because he pulls his drive into the gallery down the left, and might not have a route to the green, a couple of big trees possibly in his way. Let’s see.
Another birdie for Lucas Herbert, this time at 4. He rises to -3. An opening bogey for Abraham Ancer, the result of sending his approach wide left of the green. He slips to -3.
It wasn’t Will Zalatoris’s day yesterday. Certainly not on the front nine, when his driving went askew and his putting all but disintegrated. Perhaps it’s his day today, though? A big stroke of luck with his opening drive, which looks like heading for one of the bunkers down the left, but bounces in between them before kicking back towards the fairway. He’s out today with the big-hitting Cameron Young, who already has three second-place finishes on Tour this year, the latest at the Wells Fargo a couple of weeks ago. He sends his drive in a similar direction, but looks to have got over both bunkers. Just one pairing to go!
McIlroy nearly makes bounceback birdie from 40 feet on 7. His putt horseshoes out. So close. He’s throwing everything at this. He squats on his haunches in despair. He’s -3. Meanwhile, behind him, Tommy Fleetwood has started briskly. Birdies at 4 and 5 have whisked Southport’s finest to -2.
Another player comes this close to an ace. We’ve already seen Jordan Spieth nearly make albatross on 17. Now Cam Smith creams a fashionable 7-wood into the par-three 8th, his ball hitting the flagstick and stubbornly refusing to drop. The ball lips out to four feet, and lips out again on his birdie putt. “That’s not fair!” cries someone in the gallery. He’s got that damn straight. Poor Cam, who remains at level par. Spieth incidentally had no more luck on 17. His tee shot, an inch wide of dropping, then rolled off the back, and he couldn’t get up and down for his birdie. Par, and the career-slam-chasing Texan ends with a 69, at +4. Maybe he’ll complete the set next year at Oak Hill.
Yep, it was too good to last. McIlroy chunks his chip up from the side of 6, and he can’t make the lengthy par putt he leaves himself. He’s four over for this hole this week. The par-threes really have done a number on him. A large one. He slips back to -3.
More McIlroy magic! He crashes a 357-yard drive down the par-five 5th, then from the centre of the fairway finds a greenside bunker with his second. The mistake doesn’t cost him anything, though. He splashes out from 30 yards to four feet, and tidies up for his fourth birdie in a row. He’s doing it again, isn’t he? Chances of making it five on the spin look remote, though. He found water to the left of the par-three 6th yesterday, and, clearly not of a mind to do it again, sends his tee shot down the swale to the right of the green.
-6: Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris
-4: McIlroy (5), Ancer
Lucas Herbert opens with birdie. The 26-year-old Aussie has had a good week, and this promises to be his best finish in a major by some distance. A couple of 68s on Thursday and Saturday bookend a disappointing 73 on Friday, when, having briefly challenged the leaders, he carded four bogeys on the front nine. Other than that, he’s been consistently impressive and has announced himself this week as one to keep an eye on. He’s -2.
This is getting daft now. McIlroy rolls a 25-foot downhill left-to-right curler into the cup at 4, and that’s three birdies on the bounce. He’s -3. Speaking of good, wholesome, rollocking entertainment, up on the reachable par-four 17th, Jordan Spieth is this close to a hole-in-one albatross! His 3-wood lands on the front of the green, takes a couple of skips, then rolls about one inch wide right of the cup. His ball then topples off the back, which is simply not fair. That would have been the first albatross at the PGA since Joey Sindelar on the 5th at Medinah in 2006.
Back-to-back birdies for Rory McIlroy! This one comes at 3, and all of a sudden he’s -2. Those par-three meltdowns yesterday – double bogey at 6, triple at 11 – have really cost him. A couple of pars there and he’d be two off the lead. But here we are.
There have been seven previous majors at Southern Hills. The 1958, 1977 and 2001 US Opens, won by Tommy Bolt, Hubert Green and Retief Goosen; and the 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2007 PGA Championships, won by Dave Stockton, Ray Floyd, Nick Price and Tiger Woods. That’s a pretty high-calibre roll of honour, which may explain why all seven winners held or jointly held the 54-hole lead. Mito Pereira has a lot to live up to.
It’s been a disappointing week for Jon Rahm. One of the pre-tournament favourites, he never really got going, yesterday’s 76 the nadir of an uneven week. He’s finished with a 68, though, a little boost for the confidence as he starts thinking about his defence of the US Open next month at Brookline. He ends up at +6.
Is Rory McIlroy going to do his usual thing of charging up the leaderboard on Sunday having all but played himself out of contention? Perhaps! He rolls in a birdie putt on 2 to move into red figures at -1. He’ll need a stellar round today if he’s to slake that eight-year major thirst, and to be fair the conditions are conducive for low scoring. It’s warmer than yesterday, the wind is much less troublesome, and they’ve moved up a few tee boxes in the hope of fireworks. It shouldn’t be beyond someone in the chasing pack to post a score that will trouble the surprise leader Mito Pereira if he stumbles.
In case you missed the news last night, Tiger withdrew after that painful (in more than one sense of the word) 79. It was his third-worst round at a major championship – he shot 81 at Muirfield in the 2002 Open, and 80 when the US Open was staged on the whirling waltzer that is Chambers Bay – but that leg was really playing up, so it was no great surprise to see him limp off the stage. Hopefully he’ll be back in time for the Open at St Andrews in July; an appearance at Brookline next month for the US Open might be pushing it.
… and there was us thinking the story that unfolded last year at Kiawah Island, when Phil Mickelson became the oldest player to win a major, couldn’t be matched this year. But look: Mito Pereira, making his PGA Championship debut, takes a three-shot lead into the final round at Southern Hills. Should the 27-year-old Chilean, the world number 100 making only his 28th start on the PGA Tour, lift the Wanamaker Trophy in a few hours, it’ll be a shock right up there with the leftfield victories of John Daly (1991), Rich Beem (2002) and Shaun Micheel (2003).
Should it be such a big surprise, though? Pereira fell one place short of medalling at the Olympics last year. On Tour, he finished third at the Fortinet Championship last September, tied 13th at the Texas Open in April, and tied for 17th at the Byron Nelson last week. He’s also fourth this season in hitting the greens in regulation. I mean, the answer to the question is obviously YES – please identify the legions tipping Pereira for glory three days ago – but it’s not as though the guy doesn’t have the chops to become a major champion. Yesterday’s staunch regrouping after his mini-collapse around the turn proves that.
However other shocks are available! Pereira hasn’t won on Tour yet, but then neither have Matt Fitzpatrick, Will Zalatoris or Cameron Young. Abraham Ancer and Séamus Power each have one victory to their name, but nobody was bigging them up before the week began. Few were talking about veterans Stewart Cink or Bubba Watson, either, and while Justin Thomas was one of the pre-tournament favourites, if he wins from here, he’d equal John Mahaffey’s all-time record of winning from seven shots back after 54 holes (1978), and that would be seismic in itself.
This is all a very long-winded way of saying that whatever happens at Southern Hills today is guaranteed to be memorable. And hey, it’ll be even more special if we all go on the journey together. So buckle up, friends and honorary Okies, as we set off on another wild ride into the major-championship unknown. Good luck to all involved, and may the best/most-blessed man win.
Here’s how the top of the leaderboard looked after 54 holes …
-6: Fitzpatrick, Zalatoris
-2: Cink, Thomas, Watson
-1: Simpson, Herbert, Homa, Burns, Woodland, Kirk, Riley
E: Schauffele, Fleetwood, Fox, Hoge, Arnaus, McIlroy
… and here’s when they all troop out to meet their fate (all times BST). This is on. It’s on!
1.00 pm: Maverick McNealy, Sepp Straka
1.09 pm: Robert MacIntyre, Patton Kizzire
1.18 pm: Jason Kokrak, Billy Horschel
1.27 pm: Adam Hadwin, Thomas Pieters
1.36 pm: Beau Hossler, Si Woo Kim
1.45 pm: Justin Harding, Jon Rahm
1.55 pm: Collin Morikawa, Kevin Streelman
2.05 pm: Francesco Molinari, Kramer Hickok
2.15 pm: Louis Oosthuizen, Shaun Norris
2.25 pm: Lanto Griffin, Charl Schwartzel
2.35 pm: Keith Mitchell, Marc Leishman
2.45 pm: Cam Davis, Hideki Matsuyama
2.55 pm: Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland
3.05 pm: Denny McCarthy, Jordan Spieth
3.15 pm: Jason Day, Keegan Bradley
3.25 pm: Troy Merritt, Adam Schenk
3.45 pm: Brian Harman, Luke List
3.55 pm: Harold Varner III, Brooks Koepka
4.05 pm: Bernd Weisberger, Talor Gooch
4.15 pm: K.H. Lee, Shane Lowry
4.25 pm: Rikuya Hoshino, Russell Henley
4.35 pm: Tyrrell Hatton, Sebastian Muñoz
4.45 pm: Cameron Tringale, Patrick Reed
4.55 pm: Aaron Wise, Rickie Fowler
5.05 pm: Laurie Canter, Justin Rose
5.15 pm: Matt Kuchar, Lucas Glover
5.25 pm: Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Smith
5.35 pm: Brendan Steele, Kevin Na
5.45 pm: Adri Arnaus, Rory McIlroy
5.55 pm: Ryan Fox, Tom Hoge
6.05 pm: Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood
6.15 pm: Chris Kirk, Davis Riley
6.25 pm: Sam Burns, Gary Woodland
6.35 pm: Lucas Herbert, Max Homa
6.55 pm: Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson
7.05 pm: Stewart Cink, Justin Thomas
7.15 pm: Abraham Ancer, Seamus Power
7.25 pm: Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young
7.35 pm: Mito Pereira, Matt Fitzpatrick