For the first time this week at the PGA Championship, one of America's great courses fought back and showed its teeth against the season's best field of golfers. There were a few rounds that touched the mid-60s in the morning, but by the afternoon, that kind of movement was unavailable for the leaders thanks to firming conditions and increased wind on the Rochester layout at Oak Hill.
Jim Furyk somehow managed to stay in the 60s for a third straight day, carding a 68 to jump into sole possession of the lead at 9-under. The 43-year-old is in the sunset of his career, but he'll play in the final group on Sunday when he goes for his second career major exactly 10 years after his runaway U.S. Open win at Olympia Fields. Furyk was steady all day on Saturday, too, jumping ahead as the rest of the leading group around him stalled or carded crooked numbers.
Furyk opened Saturday with two bogeys in his first three holes and it appeared it was going to be another weekend fade for the veteran after last year's ugly late collapses at Olympic, Firestone, and the Ryder Cup. He quickly righted things with that funky swing of his, however,, picking up two birdies to turn in an even-par 35. An inward 33 was preserved on the 18th hole when he sank a clutch par-saving putt from a moderate length. That save came on the heels of a birdie at No. 17, which has been playing as the toughest hole all week.
The pressure will be immense on Sunday, but Furyk's ability to get it back after the shaky start was impressive Saturday afternoon. Now, with another round in the 60s on Sunday, the title will likely be his.
Playing with Furyk in Sunday's final pairing will be Jason Dufner who, understandably, came nowhere close to matching his second-round 63. The Duf fought some wildness off the tee and turned in a 2-over 37. He held on coming into the clubhouse to stay on the heels of Furyk, though, by making world-class birdies at No. 7 and No. 10. It looked like he might drop another shot on the last hole after sending his drive into the right rough, but he managed to get up and down from his layup to save par thanks to this fortuitous roll on the lip:
The leaders failing to push the mark to double-digits under-par was exactly what the desperate chasers like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy needed.
Woods, however, was off for the third straight day and any chance of entertaining a thought of contention was gone in the first hour of his round. He was wild off the tee, continuing to leak right, and the sloppiness up on the green persisted. After last week's dominance at Firestone, this week's form has to be bitterly disappointing for Woods knowing that he'll finish another summer without a major. Despite a five-win season (so far), Tiger will now be hounded about his five-plus year major drought for the next sixth months.
While all the talk about Tiger and Phil centered on their recent form and likely contention, the predictions for Rory McIlroy and his recent game were much more bleak entering this 95th PGA Championship. Yet it's Rory, not the two ahead of him in the world rankings, who suddenly is back in contention for a third career major. McIlroy shot a 67 to get to 3-under for the week with a round that was built on a remarkable finish featuring back-to-back birdies on the 17th and 18th. Those holes are supposed to be the toughest on the course and destroy a player's chances, not improve them. Rory, however, bombed a putt in on the 17th to get some momentum late:
One hole later, he wouldn't need a putter to add his finishing red number. Because, from the back of the green, McIlroy chipped down into the hole to walk off at 3-under:
The round propelled McIlroy 21 spots up the leaderboard and into the top 10 heading into Sunday's final round. He's still six shots back, but the leaders in the final group have a recent history of dropping shots on Sunday -- and Rory has the talent to go low and put some pressure on them early.
Below are the complete scores with just 18 holes to go in the 2013 season's last major:
|Place||Player||Score||1st Round||2nd Round||3rd Round||Total|
|T34||Rafael Cabrera Bello||2||68||75||69||212|
|T38||Brendon de Jonge||3||71||71||71||213|