Eubanks: Saturday drama great while it lasted
Before Mother Nature decided she'd had enough, Saturday's action at Kiawah Island was as good as it could be, says Steve Eubanks. An extra-long Sunday, though, could be even better.
By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com
KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- No matter how great the drama, Mother Nature always wins in the end.
But, boy, was it dramatic while it lasted.
A day after the Ocean Course lived up to its reputation as the hardest course in America, the wind died down and the birdies flew.
Bo Van Pelt got out early Saturday and shot 67 to get to 3 under par. More than anything, Van Pelt’s round showed the leaders that a good number could be found out there. The course wasn’t easy by any means, but with soft greens and a temperate breeze, Moving Day appeared to be living up to its name.
Steve Stricker posted a 67 to get to 2 under, and Padraig Harrington shot 69 to get to minus-1. Trevor Immelman birdied the first, sixth and eighth, and lipped out for birdie on three to get to 3 under.
Adam Scott experienced something akin to Tiger roars when he birdied six, seven, eight and nine to move to 5 under.
And Rory McIlroy, who said on Wednesday that he wanted nothing more than to be in contention going into the final round, did a good deal better than that, making birdies on the first two holes, and following it up with the best par of the week on the third after his ball lodged in the long tree in the fairway.
“I knew the line of the ball was right on the tree,” McIlroy said. “So, I was like, well, if it hit the tree, I'm sure it's just somewhere around here in this long grass or in the wood chips. We'd been looking for maybe about three minutes and then one of the guys working for the TV came over and said: ‘It's actually stuck in the tree.’ I'm like: ‘How can it be stuck in this thing?’ There are no branches, no leaves for it to be stuck in. But it had wedged itself in between the tree bark and the actual tree.”
McIlroy took an unplayable lie, hit his third shot to 12 feet and made the putt for par.
“I was just happy to get it up and down for 4 and move on to the next,” he said. “I thought it was very important to do that, especially after birdieing the first two holes.”
McIlroy then birdied seven and eight to reach 7 under. But he got a little too aggressive on his approach on nine, found the bunker and failed to get up and down.
That bogey dropped him into a tie for the lead at 6 under with Vijay Singh.
“To be 4 under through nine is a great position to be in,” McIlroy said. “The conditions out there today were obviously a lot better than they were yesterday. Some of the pin positions were a bit easier. They moved the tees up a little bit, and the wind wasn't as strong. So I think those three things combined are why you saw the scores being a little bit better today.”
They were no better for Tiger Woods, who began the day tied for the lead but struggled with his swing early and often. Bogeys and four, five and seven dropped Tiger into an eight-way tie for 11th.
It was shaping up to be one of those major championship afternoons that get talked about and relived for decades – the sort of shot-making slugfest that bring fans to their feet and reminds us all why we love the game.
Then the clouds rolled in, the thunder rumbled, the rain poured, and Mother Nature reminded everyone that she will always be the ultimate champion.
August is always an iffy month, as thunderstorms have been popping up on hot summer afternoons since the dawn of time.
“August in many states at this time of year is a challenging time,” said PGA Managing Director of Championships Kerry Haigh. “Sometimes you’re lucky, and sometimes you’re not.”
This time the PGA Championship was not. The leaders will finish their third rounds early Sunday and then go out in threesomes for the final round.
“I don’t think you can let it affect you,” McIlroy said. “You know, the way I’m looking at it, I’m going into the final day of the final major of the season tied for the lead, so I can't ask for much more. I don't care if it's going to be 27 holes, 18 holes, 36 holes; I'm just happy to be going in there in a good position.”
He might as well look on the bright side. Mother Nature will get the last laugh either way.