PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Oak Hill finally had enough elements for a strong test Saturday in the PGA Championship, and Jim Furyk was up for the fight.
Grinding to the end in swirling wind that cast doubt on so many shots, Furyk closed with two big putts — one for birdie to regain the lead, one for par to keep it — that gave him a 2-under 68 and a one-shot lead over Jason Dufner going into the final round.
Coming off an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th, Furyk hit his 3-wood so badly on the 472-yard closing hole that he couldn’t have reached the green even if he had been in the fairway. He hit a solid shot over the bunkers and back into the fairway, watched his third shot spin off the green onto the fringe, and he gave an emphatic fist pump when his 15-foot par putt curled in the left side of the cup for par.
“Obviously, I made a bad swing,” Furyk said. “This week, I haven’t let too much bother me. It was a nice way to finish the day.”
Sunday doesn’t figure to be any easier — not the course, and not with the guys chasing him.
Dufner thought he had missed another putt on the 18th hole until gravity pulled the ball into the side of the cup for a par that gave him a 71. Sure, it was eight shots worse than his record-tying 63 on a soft course Friday, but at least he got into the final group at the PGA Championship for the second time in three years.
Henrik Stenson, a runner-up at the British Open three weeks ago, dropped only one shot over the last 16 holes and ran in a pair of 12-foot birdie putts for a 69 and was two shots behind. Sweden’s odds of winning a major have never been this high. Stenson will play in the penultimate group with Jonas Blixt, who had a 66.
The surprise was Masters champion Adam Scott, who was poised to seize control at any moment.
Scott blasted a driver on the uphill, 318-yard 14th hole that was so pure he snatched his tee from the ground as the ball was still rising. It stopped 25 feet below the cup, and he had an eagle putt to tie for the lead. The Australian two-putted for birdie, and two holes later fell back with a double bogey on the 16th. Scott escaped further damage with a 15-foot par save on the 17th and managed a 72. He was four shots behind, along with Steve Stricker, who had a 70.
Those were the only five players within five shots of the lead. Whether more join the chase depends on Furyk, who was at 9-under 201.
Still with an outside chance was Rory McIlroy, who came to life with three birdies over his last six holes for a 67. McIlroy, trying to join Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington as the only repeat winners of the PGA in the stroke-play era, knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th and then showed more emotion than he has all year when he chipped in for birdie on the 18th.
“It was good to feel the sort of rush again,” McIlroy said.
He was at 207, still six shots behind.
Woods, meanwhile, will have to wait eight more months to end his drought in the majors. He opened with two bogeys in three holes and shot a 73 to fall 13 shots behind. It was a shocking performance from the world’s No. 1 player, mainly because he was coming off an eight-shot win at Firestone that included a 61.
Woods has made only seven birdies in 54 holes — four of them on par 3s.
British Open champion Phil Mickelson was even worse. He sprayed the ball all over Oak Hill on his way to a 78, matching his highest score ever in the PGA Championship.
Furyk wasn’t overly excited when he opened this championship with a 65 to share the lead with Scott, and he has kept his eyes in front of him since then. He wasn’t even sure what the leaderboard looked like, except that his name was at the top.
“I’m comfortable with where I’m at,” Furyk said. “There’s a crowded leaderboard at the top, and instead of really viewing it as who is leading and who is not, I’m really viewing it as I need to go out there tomorrow and put together a good, solid round of golf. Fire a good number and hope it stacks up well.”
No one looked terribly comfortable at the start, not with the swirling wind and water hazard that winds its way along the front nine.
U.S. Open champion Justin Rose fell apart early with back-to-back double bogeys that sent him to a 42. He wound up with a 77. Scott opened with a 20-foot birdie putt, only to follow with back-to-back bogeys. And when Dufner ended his string of pars by driving into the creek on No. 5 for double bogey, it appeared that this tournament was wide open.
The leaders steadied themselves, leaving the Sunday still up for grabs but likely among fewer players.
Furyk spoke earlier in the week about the sting of losing in the big events, and he’s had a share of them, such as his runner-up finish in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont near where he grew up, and last year at Olympic Club when he lost the lead on the 70th hole by snap-hooking his tee shot on a par 5.
Scott knows well how unpredictable a final round can be.
He was four shots up with four holes to play at the British Open last year and watched Ernie Els win the claret jug. At Muirfield last month, Mickelson came from five shots behind on the final day and won by three.
“I would like to be leading,” Scott said. “Four back is well within reach. Anything can happen in a major. We just saw the pin spots get tough today, and scoring in the final groups was very difficult. With so much danger around, it’s hard to be completely free where major pressure is on the line. Tomorrow is going to be similar.”