By: G. Rennie
Oak Hill Country Club broke out it’s major championship garb this afternoon as blue skies and swirling winds made play much more difficult at the 95th PGA Championship. Wide fairways and sponge-like greens that had brought on record low scores and red numbers by the truckload on Thursday and Friday but by the time the leaders were teeing off that was just a memory.
68 was the lowest any of the the 36 hole leading cohort could manage but the morning starters were faced with a slightly more benign course and a few of these managed to to take it to the mid sixties.
One of our pre -tournament favorites, Dustin Johnson, posted 65, the days lowest round and vaulted up the board to a joint 9th place going into the final round. Johnson carded six birds against one lone bogey on the tough 5th hole. He’ll tee off four groups ahead of the lead pair partnered with Kevin Streelman, another major mover on moving day. Streelman’s 64 tied for the second lowest round of the day. Johnson could post another low round early and put a little pressure on the leaders but at seven back, that’s a bridge too far.
The three top ranked golfers in the OWGR all seemed well out of reach going off today and #1 and #2 are now most definitely out of this championship. Tiger could manage only one birdie in his round and his 73 will have his head, and maybe Sean Foley’s, spinning for some time. Phil found symmetry if not birdies, at least as he had matching 39’s. At 10 over he’ll probably start planning for Pinehurst as he’s finishing the string tomorrow.
Rory broke the trend those two other needle movers were bent on as he fired a three under 67, finishing birdie -birdie on the two toughest holes on the course. His chip in on 18 from rough above the hole was Shot of the Day. At 6 back he’s got a huge load to lift but it’s not without precedent and there are few golfers who can turn from dark to light, from bemused to dazzling, from clueless to masterful but Rory is surely one of them. He toasted the field at last years PGA and maybe he’s found some karmic magic at this PGA. Mc is Back!
The top nine spots on the leaderboard are all held by very familiar names, the usual suspects so to speak, with one exception. Jonas Blixt blitzed the venerable Oak Hill track with a four under 64, topped off by birdie on the treacherous 18th. He’s part of the Swedish Invasion that will go off as the next to last pairing. We’ve got the Little Swede and the Big Swede. Blixt is probably six inches, maybe more, shorter than his partner and fellow countryman Henrik Stenson who holed three birdie putts on his way to a very nice round of 69. Big has held his form over the last month better than any other golfer on the tours. At two back he is in perfect position to capture his first major and break into the top ten in the rankings. 54 hole major leaders have a dreadful record of holding on and closing the deal in recent years and lots of money will wager that neither of the final pairing will have the chops to hoist the Wanamaker on Sunday evening.
A number of contenders blew up today most notably Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar with a 77 and a 76 respectively. Webb Simpson, who for a brief time was co-record holder of the Oak Hill record (with a stellar 64 yesterday) also went south with a three over round of 73 and now lies 8 back.
The man who eclipsed that record with his own piece of history yesterday was Jason Dufner. His 63 put him on top of Ben Hogan and Curtis Strange ( as well as Simpson) and he nearly wrote a monumental record for all time major scoring but his putt for 62 fell short. That still left him with a two stroke lead at -9 heading into Saturday’s round. He no longer holds that lead but his sometimes shaky yet, in the end, gritty 71 sees him in the final pairing only one back of leader Jim Furyk. Dufner is a sort of social media folk hero as Dufnering has taken off as some kind of laid back mock version of new age meditation. But the guy has game, a distinctive style with that throw back waggle, and a demeanor that never varies. He’d be a great lunch pail type of major champion.
The only remaining current holder of a major title still in the hunt is Aussie Adam Scott. His plus two round today wasn’t what we expected but it could have been much worse. He took a double bogey six on the relatively easy 16th hole but closed with back to back pars that included a great save from the left rough on 17. He’s four back but can apply some pressure on the guys playing behind him. I think he’s the man to beat tomorrow.
The 54 hole leader at the PGA Championship is Jim Furyk. We’ve seen this movie before and it typically ends in a car wreck. Well at least it always did in the 2012 season. Furyk lead or co-lead four tourneys last year and failed to close on any. Most notable and wrenching were the US Open at Olympic , where he was utterly gutted, and the WGC Bridgestone. On top of that he was one of the many “goats” on the US squad at last years Ryder Cup at Medinah. It was a horror of a season to watch as this major champion winner seemed to be walking into the sunset of his career. But now Jim Furyk is climbing up Redemption Mountain. All those demons will be vanquished, all the the disappointment and heartache will vanish, all that past will be transformed into an honored future. If Jim can pull this off he’ll be strolling into the World Golf Hall of Fame. If he can’t will he ever be able to contend again?
Good luck, Jimmy.