Five storylines to follow entering Sunday's finale in the PGA Championship
Here are the five biggest storylines entering the final day of the 2018 PGA Championship:
Tiger, Tiger, Tiger
Missourians are accustomed to pulling hard for their Tigers, and Tiger Woods has been no exception. Enormous galleries in St. Louis have relished Woods’ first competitive start in this city, and he has not disappointed. Last month Woods kicked away a golden shot at capturing his 15th major championship when he surrendered a back-nine lead on Sunday at the Open Championship at Carnoustie. Give him this: he’s back for more.
Once the game’s most feared closer, Woods will be wearing that familiar Sunday red at Bellerive Country Club and will have a shot at doing something seismic. Having finished up a 4-under 66 in the morning (he had 11 holes to play), Woods turned around Saturday afternoon and shot another 66. He is at 8-under 202, four behind leader Brooks Koepka.
Woods hasn’t won a major championship in 10 years, and hasn’t won on the PGA Tour in five seasons. He also started this tournament 3 over par after two holes. When he wins No. 80, it promises to be special.
Woods had an 18-footer for eagle at the 17th but three-putted, taking a lot of air out of the building. After five birdies in his first eight holes, he finished with 10 pars. Buzzkill. Still, it was a good day. Next priority: Get some rest.
“I'm tired,” Woods said. “I am definitely tired. Twenty-nine holes, it's not necessarily the physical, it's this mentally grinding that’s hard for 29 holes in this heat. It was a long day.”
Tiger Woods with a chance on Sunday at a major? That’s all we can ask.
Props for Brooks
Serious question: Does Brooks Koepka have a pulse? He arrives to major championships these days cool and collected. Commentators on CBS bantered aloud wondering if Koepka even sweats.
He made a couple of late bogeys (driving it up against a tree at 15, leading him to take an unplayable), but he’s right there again on a giant stage. At 28, the two-time major winner continues to build an incredible resume at the game’s biggest championships. His tie for 39th at Carnoustie a few weeks back marked the first time since the 2016 Masters that he’d finished worse than T-13.
Friday, Koepka shot 63, tying an all-time PGA record for low score (Charl Schwartzel matched him). He went out in 30 Saturday afternoon, and shot 66. Sunday, Koepka has a chance to win for the third time in a span of six major starts. Three majors? That would be creeping into Hall of Fame-type turf – even if Koepka boasts only one other PGA Tour trophy, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open. (He also owns three European Tour victories.)
When Koepka showed up at Shinnecock in June as defending U.S. Open champion, nobody paid much attention. And you didn’t hear his name all that much earlier this week, either. Which is absolutely fine with him. The lack of attention and respect? It fuels him. And he’s flying right now.
The developing Ryder Cup picture
After Sunday’s final round, eight U.S. players will secure spots into next month’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National outside Paris via qualifying in the points table. Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed and Justin Thomas already had locked up berths on the team. Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson hold down spots 5-8. Watson missed the cut (though he’s pretty safe at No. 5) and the other three will be earning points (1.5 times every $1,000 earned this week, and 2 times for a winner).
There’s a good chance the top eight won’t change.
One player who had a terrific chance to make a move on Saturday was Kevin Kisner. Kisner, 34, was your 54-hole PGA leader into Sunday at Quail Hollow a year ago (he tied for seventh), and played in the final grouping of the third round. Kisner struggled. Playing with bombers Brooks Koepka and Gary Woodland, Kisner shot 2-over 72, making but one birdie. At 7-under, five behind, he’d need to go pretty low on Sunday.
Kisner ranks 15th in U.S. points, trailing Webb Simpson (one shot behind) by 967 points. Nos. 9 (Bryson DeChambeau) and 10 (Phil Mickelson) missed the cut. Captain Jim Furyk will fill his 12-man team out with three wild-card selections after the Dell Technologies Championship (TPC Boston) on Sept. 3 and has one final pick after the BMW Championship (Aronomink) Sept. 9.
For the Aussies, an inspirational surge
Aussies Adam Scott and Jason Day have had emotional weeks in the days following the heartbreaking loss of fellow Australian golfer Jarrod Lyle, who was a good friend to both. Lyle, who three times battled cancer, died at home in Australia at age 36 on Wednesday. He left behind a wife, Bri, and two young daughters.
Day is the 2015 PGA champion and a two-time winner already this season. But Scott has endured a rugged campaign. In 17 events, the 13-time PGA Tour winner and 2013 Masters champion has finished inside the top 10 only once, that being a tie for ninth at the AT&T Byron Nelson in Texas. He has slipped to 76th in the world ranking, which was enough to get him into this week’s field.
Scott, 38, has been encouraged by some improved putting of late. He returned to a long putter in the spring, moving the top of it away from his sternum before he makes his stroke (Scott formerly anchored a broomstick putter, but the stroke was deemed non-conforming as of Jan. 1, 2016). He also is back working with swing instructor Brad Malone, who is Scott's brother-in-law.
Scott has been one of the game’s premier ballstrikers for years. He owns some high finishes at majors, but said he never has truly contended at the PGA (he tied for third in 2006). Sunday he’ll have his chance. Two late birdies lifted him to 65 and jumped him to 10-under 200, and he’ll play alongside Koepka. Day, who shot 67, is at 8 under. Scott and Day will be inspiring an entire country on Sunday. Back home, the Aussie sports community is struggling to grasp the loss of Lyle, a joyous young man who was popular with all. Scott said Lyle was the type of person he’d want his kids to be. Day, who lived across the street from Lyle when the two were young pros in Orlando, Florida.
“It's hard,” Day said, “because you sit there and you know him and he's a buddy of yours, and he's not there anymore. He's never going to come back. That's the hardest thing to sort of come by.”
If Scott or Day were to win, there won’t be a dry eye in St. Louis. Or Down Under. But it’s just not an Aussie thing.
Said Scott, “I think that a part of everyone is playing for Jarrod this week.”
What a leaderboard
Have you taken a few minutes to scroll down the leaderboard of the 100th PGA Championship? It’s stronger than iodine.
Your summer Open champions — Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari (T-12) — are on there, as is last year’s PGA champion and reigning PGA Tour player of the year Justin Thomas. Young Jon Rahm (9-under) is in the mix. And kudos to Rickie Fowler. He catches a lot of heat about not yet winning a major, but he sure keeps performing well enough to give himself some good looks.
Sunday will mark Fowler’s last chance to win a major in his 20s. He's three shots behind leader Koepka. Add in power-player Gary Woodland, former major winners Stewart Cink and Webb Simpson, Julian Suri (he plays in Europe, but is Florida-born) and it’s been quite a show by Uncle Sam’s boys this week. There are 20 players at T-15 or better. Twelve hail from the U.S.
Captain Furyk ought to be smiling at his riches.