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.
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