SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The swagger returned to Dustin Johnson’s stride on the back nine of Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship.
While others stumbled in their final few holes, Johnson was gaining momentum. He birdied 14, 15 and 17 to cap a round of 65 and grabbed the top of the scoreboard at 9 under. And his round could have been even better, Johnson double-bogeyed the 9th.
Johnson is leading the tourney in shots gained off putts and his 8 birdies during the round were his best ever in a single round of a major. He stroked just 24 putts on Saturday.
“I putted really well, that was the key,” he said. “But I hit a lot of good shots to give myself some good looks. The flags are tucked, the greens are firm and fast. I did hit a lot of quality iron shots. Tomorrow I definitely need to hit some more greens.”
Cameron Champ, who grew up 90 miles away in Sacramento, came within an inch to pulling into a tie with Johnson. He stroked a great putt on 18 that stopped just short. Champ shot a round of 67 to be at 8 under.
“I’ve been really feeding off my driver,” Champ said. “That’s been the key for me.”
Tour rookie Scottie Scheffler, who birdied eight holes — three in a row in a stretch on the back nine and three bogeys, the final one on the 18th — ended a round of 65 and an 8 under par total for the tournament.
“I hit some really nice shots, got some good looks,” Scheffler said. “Definitely starting out with the wind directions and the pins it did not seem like it the golf course was very getable. But if you put yourself in position, you can get some clean looks and the greens are rolling nicely so you can make some putts at distance.”
Meanwhile, Brooks Koepka, trying for a three-peat title at the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, seem to lose momentum late in the round with three consecutive bogeys. But he rallied to birdie two of the last three holes to shoot a 1-under par 69 and head into the final round at 7 under par.
Li, who is trying to become the first golfer from China to win a major championship, got a bad break on the 13th hole when his ball sailed off course and was lost in the cypress trees. He was penalized a stroke and double-bogeyed the hole. He would finish the day 5 under par.
Collin Morikawa, who played collegiately across the bay at UC Berkeley and shot a 65 to be at 7 under par entering the final round, credited playing with Australian star Adam Scott for his high level of play.
“I felt really good,” he said. “I didn’t practice yesterday after the round but I had some thoughts about what I wanted to do. Obviously, playing with Adam Scott, a great ball striker, great swing. It kinda helps when you play within someone like that. Just to get some momentum.”
England’s Paul Casey, who has been outspoken about missing the fans forced from the course as a precaution during the COVID-19 outbreak, shot a 68 to also be heading into the final round at 7 under par.
“I’ve actually struggled with not having fans out,” he said after the second round. “I’ve really missed it — plain and simple. I’ve not been able to get the excitement going, lacking energy and all that goes with having fans at a sporting event at a golf tournament, I just genuinely miss it. So I’ve felt very flat.”
While the wind played a role early in the day, the bombers — the tour’s long drivers — grabbed the limelight in the afternoon. And it wasn’t just drives, they were also dropping in putts from distance. Bryon DeChambeau holed a 95-foot putt for birdie on the 18th and Tony Finau made a 50-footer on 17. Both finished the round at 6 under
“Obviously, I hit in a pretty good line,” DeChambeau said of the putt. “Sometimes you just have to hit it. I don’t know what to say.”
Mother Nature buffeted the fairways with gusty winds late in the morning, adding an extra challenge for the world’s best golfers.
Those who teed off early took advantage of calm weather conditions to gain strokes on the leaderboard before the wind began kicking up around 11 a.m. The greens toughened and scoring opportunities became scarce.
“It got windy,” said Tiger Woods, who fell to 2 over par for the tournament. “The greens are starting to get a little crusty. They are not really quick, but they are definitely crusty coming into approach. The wind is definitely moving the ball when you hit putts.”
After struggling through the first two rounds and barely making the cut, Justin Thomas, the world’s top ranked golfer, appeared to find his groove. He began the round at 1 over par but quickly shaved five shots off his score through the first seven holes. But once again Harding Park rose up and challenged him. He bogeyed No. 8 and No. 9. to make the turn at 2 under.
On the back nine, the course and wind took a toll on Thomas. He birdied the 10th but then bogeyed the 16th and 18th. He finished the day 2 under par and 1 under for the tournament.
“I knew where I was (on the leaderboard) I needed to post a good round today to have a chance,” he said. “I felt like if I could get to 10 under this weekend, I’d have a pretty good chance. I got off to the start I wanted.”
“I hit a pretty good shot on 8 but just leaked it and kind of landed on the down side of the green into a funky lie,” Thomas said of where his woes began. “The bogeys on 8 and 9 hurt, but you are going to make bogeys out here on this course. I’m a littled pissed right now. I let a really go round go…I didn’t capitalized on the back nine.”
Meanwhile, for a second day, Woods just could not make a putt. He left a couple birdies on the green as putts just inched out. Harding Park taunted the four-time PGA champion who played his first nine at 1 over par.
“I’ve always struggled during my career when the greens look fast but putt slow,” he said. “That has always been the case. Sometimes I’ll add a lead tape to my putter to try to get a little more weight to get the ball to the hole. But it’s about feel … the feeling in my feet. What I see. Overall awareness of how I’m reading the putts. Sometimes they just don’t match up.”
A stretch of three bogeys in five holes on the wind-swept back nine may have all but ended Woods chances at a 5th PGA Championship crown.
“It’s just like yesterday,” Woods said. “I just didn’t get anything going and had to claw and fight to get my way back and didn’t get anything going until the last few holes.”
Among the early starters, Patrick Cantley had the best round, firing a bogey-free, 4-under-par 66. He heads into the fourth round at 3 under par.