Aug 10, 2013 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
The return of a tough, mean and ornery Oak Hill Country Club in Saturday’s third round of the 95th PGA Championship in suburban Rochester led to a scramble to see who would have the best chance to win the year’s final major.
And when the scramble was complete, Jim Furyk found himself atop the standings, trying to add a legacy-building second major to the United States Open title he claimed 10 long years ago.
With a gritty two-under-par 68 capped by long putts on the last two holes – one for birdie, one for par – Furyk finished at 201, nine under par, one ahead of second-round leader Jason Dufner and two clear of Henrik Stenson heading into Sunday’s final round.
Furyk won the 2003 U.S. Open at Olympia Fields near Chicago. Ever since, he has added to his PGA Tour win total, which now stands at 16, but has seen multiple chances at another major slip out of his hands.
Now, a month after 43-year-old Phil Mickelson altered his career legacy at Muirfield with his British Open triumph, Furyk, also 43, could redefine his own legacy and make a Hall of Fame argument, and he goes there with, as he puts it, some peace of mind.
“I’ve been very comfortable and relaxed this week,” said Furyk. “Even when I didn’t hit good shots, it didn’t bother me at all.”
A very different Oak Hill greeted the players on Saturday. Cooler temperatures, higher breezes and lots of hole locations tucked into corners seemed to assure that no one would get near the record-tying 63 that Dufner posted on Friday afternoon to take the 36-hold lead.
Matt Kuchar and Justin Rose personified that trouble. Starting out two shots back, Kuchar birdied the 1st hole to slice that margin by one. But he dropped two shots on the the par-three 3rd and began to slide backward, eventually posting a damaging 76. Rose, who started the day six under, did even worse, ballooning to a front-nine 42 on his way to a 77.
Dufner, who teed off with a two-shot lead, avoided most of the trouble with four early pars and, by doing so, expanded his lead to three shots, getting a chance to firmly establish control early in the round.
Instead, he pulled his drive on the par-four 5th into Allen’s Creek, leading to a double bogey and bringing the rest of the field closer.
Dufner appeared to recover from his slip on 5 with a birdie on 7, but missed a short par putt on 8, and dropped into a tie with Furyk, who shook off two early bogeys with birdies on 4 and 8 to turn in 35, catching Dufner and passing both Stenson and Adam Scott.
Then Furyk made an impressive birdie on the par-four 10th, pushing him into the outright lead for the first time since the opening round – but only until Dufner birdied 10 to climb back to eight under and tie things up again.
Furyk rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on 12, and was back in the lead at nine under, chased by both Dufner and Stenson, the Swede enjoying three consecutive top-three finishes going into the week, including a runner-up to Mickelson at Muirfield.
Stenson was, perhaps, the steadiest player among the leaders, with just one birdie and one bogey in his first 12 holes to hang close before he birdied 13 and 14 to move to eight under, just behind Furyk.
Just as quickly, though, Stenson bogeyed 15, but he managed to par the last three holes and finished with a 69 to finish at 203, seven under par, giving himself a terrific chance to become the first Swedish-born player to win a major.
Furyk made with his own bogey at 15 to fall back into a tie with Dufner, but that deadlock would not last.
On the par-four 17th, the toughest hole all week, Furyk drilled a 244-yard utility club approach shot to 20 feet, and buried the breaking birdie putt to regain the outright lead at nine under.
A poor drive on the par-four 18th forced Furyk to lay up short, and his third shot ended up 15 feet below the hole. But once again Furyk came through with his putter, draining the par for his 68 and the lead with one round to go.
That Dufner stayed within one shot was a tribute to his own string of eight consecutive pars to close the round, including a long saving putt on 14 and, on 18, a recovery from a poor drive with a wedge to four feet and a putt that caught the lip of the cup and fell.
No one deep in the pack had a stronger round than Jonas Blixt, who won at the Greenbrier Classic a month ago. Starting at two under, Blixt, played the front nine in 32 and, with spectacular putting, made eight straight pars on the back nine until a crazy finish on the 18th.
Blixt’s tee shot flew into the back pocket of a spectator. Allowed to drop, Blixt then hit his five-iron approach to two feet, made the birdie to finish off a bogey-free 66 and posted 204, six under par, which left him alone in fourth place by day’s end and in the next-to-last pairing on Sunday with his fellow Swede, Stenson.
Scott, following his two early bogeys, went through a string of 10 consecutive pars before driving the green on the par-four 14th and two-putting for birdie, moving him back within one before a costly double bogey at 16 left him tied with Steve Stricker (who shot a steady 70) at 205.
Out of the pack, defending champion Rory McIlroy put up a furious finish, with a back-nine 32 and back-to-back birdies on the tough 17th and 18th holes to finish at 207, three under, tied for seventh with Lee Westwood, who posted a 68.
Dustin Johnson, a winner each of the last seven years on the PGA Tour (including the event at Turning Stone Resort in 2008), played early and, after making the 143 cut on the number, put together a sparkling 65 to rise to two-under-par 208. It was the low round of the day.
Kevin Streelman, who won in Tampa Bay earlier this year, posted a 66 to match Johnson’s total of 208, and both would improve their position into a tie for 10th place with Roberto Castro as the afternoon went on and Oak Hill got more difficult.
It certainly proved difficult for the world’s top two-ranked players. Tiger Woods struggled to a 73, while Phil Mickelson, who had a triple bogey and double bogey, ballooned to a 78, assuring that both of them would play early on Sunday and not be a factor.