Henrik Stenson liked the way his third round played out. (Squire/Getty Images)
Challengers dreaming of a major takedown of Woods on Sunday
Perhaps surprisingly, a diverse collection of contenders will tee off Sunday within striking distance of Tiger Woods. Their pedigrees vary, but they have one thing in common: They know they've got to go for broke.
By T.J. Auclair, PGA.com Interactive Producer
CHASKA, Minn. -- Something strange happened on Saturday at Hazeltine -- the 91st PGA Championship suddenly became a tournament.
Sound strange? Sure. But the fact is Tiger Woods started the third round with a commanding four-shot advantage, showing no immediate signs that he was ready to take the stranglehold off his first major victory since reconstructive knee surgery just 14 months ago.
As he headed home for dinner on Saturday evening following a steady round of 1-under 71 to get to 8-under 208 total, however, Woods’ lead had been cut in half with a boatload of worthy contenders lurking not far behind.
The round of the day belonged to South Korea’s Y.E. Yang, a winner early this season on the PGA Tour at the Honda Classic. Yang fired an impressive 5-under 67 to soar up the leaderboard into a tie for second with defending champion Padraig Harrington at 4 under par.
“I’m nervous, but I've been looking forward to it,” said Yang, whose lone bogey came at the par-3 13th hole, which he followed up with three consecutive birdies. “And I've thought about this, playing with Tiger recently, and it came true so fast.”
Interestingly, Yang held off Woods for a two-shot victory at the 2006 HSBC Champions Tournament in China.
Harrington had a share of the lead with Woods at 7 under after an eagle at the par-4 14th hole, but stumbled with a bogey on the 18th hole to miss out on what would have been a spot in the final pairing with Woods for the second week in a row.
Instead, Harrington will play in the next-to-last pairing with Players Championship winner Henrik Stenson (there’s a chance Harrington could still play in the final pairing if the PGA of America decides to send the players off in threesomes off two tees because of weather issues).
“It doesn't really matter,” said Harrington, who earned his first top-10 finish of the season with a tie for second last week at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. “I know if you're playing with him, it's kind of a bit like match play and if you're not playing with him you've got to play your own game. So I'm not going to be playing with him so I have to stick to my own game and see what happens there.
“I don't think 10 minutes of a tee time is going to affect; it's not like I'm going to be posting or getting different weather than him or anything. I don't think that's going to have any effect on it,” he explained. “Obviously the effect is obviously being there and watching him hit shots and get a feel for how it's all going. Obviously I'm not going to be in that group and so I'm just going to have to do my own thing.”
Stenson is tied for fourth at 4 under with U.S. Open champ Lucas Glover.
The Swede bogeyed his first hole on Saturday before rattling off four front-nine birdies for an outward 3-under 33. He was solid on the back nine, picking up one birdie and no bogeys to card a 4-under 68.
“You can play a little bit more aggressive if you have to,” Stenson said, talking about his approach to the final round. “But if I can hopefully be up there and be within three when we turn into the back nine, it’s time to hopefully make a couple of good putts and see what happens.”
Aggressive play might be a little easier on Sunday than it’s been all week, too. Despite Tiger’s two-shot lead, the final round could turn into a great shootout. Heavy rains were expected to drench Hazeltine on Saturday night with showers on and off forecasted on Sunday. It could provide ideal scoring conditions with softened greens which could cancel out those tricky final-round pin positions.
That’s what Glover is hoping for.
“We all know how Tiger is the last round, so it's going to take something crazy, but you know, I made a bunch of birdies this week,” he said. “I just need to putt a bunch together in one round.”
On the outside looking in is South African Ernie Els, a three-time major champion, who is tied for sixth after a 2-under-par 70 on Saturday. He trails by five shots, but seems to have momentarily returned to the form that’s made him a regular major contender in the past.
“It felt great,” said Els, who was in good spirits even after closing with three straight bogeys to give a sensational round away. “I feel like I’ve been playing good all week. The putter was OK today. I chipped in. So a lot of good things happened. The finish just wasn’t great, but I’m not totally out of it. I’ll probably need something like that tomorrow and obviously I’ve got to finish it off tomorrow.”