ST. LOUIS – The first Tiger roar came not long after dawn. The storm-delayed second round resumed at 7 a.m. Saturday with Tiger Woods on No. 8, and when he birdied, Bellerive began to shake in the morning light.
So began a long and loud Saturday, and when it was over, the PGA Championship could look forward to a final round rich with possibilities, the intrigue thicker than the enormous crowds that have poured over this tournament.
“More people here this week than I think I’ve ever seen at a major championship,” leader Brooks Koepka said.
They will not want for storylines to follow on Sunday.
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By Saturday evening, Koepka had taken the lead by two shots. The big hitter with the linebacker’s physique is sometimes curiously overlooked among the more glittering stars of the game, but that is getting harder to do. If he closes the deal Sunday, he’ll move into an exceedingly posh neighborhood of golf history. Only four men have won the U.S. Open and PGA in the same season: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. And he will have done it in a year that began with a wrist injury so bad, he missed the Masters.
So should that put his name in the brightest of lights, finally?
“I would hope so,” Koepka said. “I use it as motivation. You can’t hide when you’re at the top of the leaderboard. You can’t hide my name. So just try to get to the top of the leaderboard and work from there.”
By the end of Saturday, Tiger Woods was only four shots behind. He had played 29 holes Saturday in the heat – his last putt coming 10 hours after his first shot – and gone through three shirts. There was fatigue in his voice when he said that, no, he wouldn’t be spending any post-round time on the range.
“It’s not necessarily the physical, it’s mentally grinding that hard for 29 holes in this heat. It was a long day,” he said. “I’m done with the golf side of it today, I’ve had enough.”
He teased the masses with a birdie binge on the front side, but then flat-lined on the back with a parade of missed putts and pars, which was particularly frustrating as he heard the low scores bubbling around him. “Everybody’s making birdies from everywhere. You hear roar after roar,” he said. “The course is gettable. You’ve got to make birdies.”
But still, there is magic in the air. Tigermania is in session, with an army behind the ropes to fan it, and one of his Saturday playing partners could feel it.
“Being in Tiger’s group is always exciting,” Stewart Cink said. “Players try to downplay it, and I’ve downplayed it myself over the years, because you’re trying to downplay it to yourself a little. But it’s a pretty intense environment out there.
“Hearing the crowd, and Tiger’s performing great, it was like turning back the hands of the clock.”
Woods is close enough for one question to echo through every tree of this place. Is it time for Tiger Woods to get back in the major-winning business?
“A long way to go before that happens,” Woods said.
He will have to do something he’s never done, not even back in the glory days – rally to win a major on Sunday.
By Saturday evening, Adam Scott had moved to within two shots. A career once globally renowned has hit recent hard times, and he needed a special exemption to even get into this tournament. He won the 2013 Masters, but that was five long years ago.
“The juices were flowing a little bit,” he said of Saturday. “I was feeling like I’m in the tournament; certainly it has been a while since I’ve really been feeling that. But I’m glad I got a dose of it today, because I want a whole lot tomorrow.
“I’m going to relish it tomorrow, because if it’s another five (years), basically you’re wheeling me out to pasture at that point. So I want to make the most of this.”
By Saturday evening, Rickie Fowler had played 26 holes for the day and was three shots back. He was up at 4:45 a.m., lounging in the dark before pulling himself out of bed to go complete his second round. It was a grind at the end – he played the back at 1-over par – but he will be fresher on Sunday, and within range of the first major victory he has pursued for so long.
By Saturday evening, Cink was only four shots behind. It was been nine years since he was the great party pooper at the British Open, beating 59-year-old Tom Watson in the playoff, to rain on the parade and ruin a fairy tale. He has not won a tournament since.
“It’s fun to play well in a major and feel the tingle of excitement,” Cink said.
By Saturday evening, 11 players were within four shots of the top, seven of them past major winners.
“You look at this leaderboard, there are names I’ve grown up watching, that everybody else loves to watch play,” Koepka said. “There’s a lot of star power and there should be. It’s a major championship. You should see the best players in the world come to the top, and that’s what you have.”
So anything could happen Sunday.
“It’s a packed leader board,” Scott said, "and there are going to be about 10 of us looking for that round of the year.”
The man they are chasing seems unfazed by the lead.
“I feel like if I do what I’m supposed to do, I should win the golf tournament,” Koepka said.
If he was prone to doubt, he wouldn’t have won back-to-back U.S. Opens.
“He’s giving off that demeanor of a confident golfer,” Scott said.
By Saturday evening, they were all a little spent, weary from chasing birdies on a course that was allowing them. Worn from trying to keep maintain focus in the dog days of summer in the Midwest.
“Part of this tournament is managing yourself through the heat,” Cink said. “It’s going to be the same tomorrow. It actually affects your decision-making a little bit, and your commitment, and your focus on the last several holes when it’s this hot.”
And it’ll be a lot hotter Sunday afternoon. No matter what the temperature is.
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