There was a time on Saturday at the PGA Championship that Brooks Koepka looked like he was going to run away with tournament, producing a display of power and accuracy over the front nine that the field stocked with the finest golfers in the world could not counter.
Koepka came back to earth a bit on the final nine but still fired a 4-under-par 66 on Saturday to assume a two-shot lead after the third round of the 100th edition of this event, which is the final major tournament of the 2018 PGA Tour season and is being contested at venerable Bellerive Country Club just outside St. Louis.
Koepka, the reigning winner of back-to-back U.S. Open Championships, is at 12 under for the weekend and is in the driver’s seat for his third victory in the past seven major championships. He swooped to the lead on the front nine and then stumbled a bit with a pair of bogeys before recording a final birdie on the par-5 17th.
“I played really well on the front nine and fell back some, so it was nice to kind of right the ship there at the end,” Koepka said. “I played well coming in, which is nice to go home on.”
Adam Scott of Australia, the 2013 Masters winner, is two strokes back after a round-best 65 on Saturday. Gary Woodland (who shot a 71), Jon Rahm of Spain (66) and Rickie Fowler (69) are tied for third at 9 under, three strokes off Koepka’s lead.
“I’ve driven the ball well, which is really the strength of my game, and that trickled down to the other parts today,” said Scott, who has just one top-10 finish this season. “That kind of takes the pressure off of things. I need a really great day (on Sunday) — it’s a really stacked leaderboard. Eighteen good holes? You never know.”
Four-time PGA Championship winner Tiger Woods shot a 66 on Saturday and heads to the final round at 8 under, four off the lead, tied for sixth place with 2009 Open Championship winner Stewart Cink (who also carded a 66), 2015 PGA Championship winner Jason Day of Australia (67), defending PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas (68), Shane Lowry of Ireland (69) and South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel (69).
“The course is gettable if you are finding the fairways because the approaches are sticking on the greens,” Day said. “I’ve played better over the second half of the season, but I need another low one tomorrow.”
Julian Suri (68), reigning Open Championship winner Francesco Molinari of Italy (68) and Kevin Kisner (72) are tied for 12th at 7 under. Fourteen players are within five stokes of the lead with the Wannamaker Trophy on the line Sunday.
Koepka gave notice that a great performance was on tap for Saturday afternoon when he finished with a 63 in the second round.
He then went out and forged a 30 with five birdies on the front nine of the third round, leaping past Woodland and Kisner and into a three-shot lead at the turn.
Koepka’s lead was five shots on the field until a bogey from the deep rough left of the green on the 14th, succumbing to his first dropped shot in 44 holes. He followed that with another on the ensuing hole but made a gutsy 9-foot putt for par on the 16th and birdied the 17th to give himself some breathing room to take into the final 18 holes.
“I will just stay in the moment — I think that’s the biggest thing (heading into the final round),” Koepka said. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, don’t think about anything else. I’ll just wake up and do the same routine that I’ve been doing.”
Woodland began the third round, which was played at the conclusion of the second round Saturday morning because of a weather delay on Friday afternoon, with a one-shot lead over Kisner and a two-stroke advantage on Fowler and Koepka.
Rahm charged up the leaderboard and into a prime stalking position with a bogey-free 66 that included birdies on the 16th and 17th holes.
Woodland stayed within three strokes of Koepka despite an up-and-down round. He had two bogeys and a pair of birdies on the front nine and uncorked a triple bogey on the 10th before birdieing the 12th and 14th.
Woods missed makeable birdie putts on both the 17th and 18th that could have closed the gap Koepka had extended on the field. He is 10-under par for the front nine over the first three rounds and 2 over on the back nine through 54 holes.
“It’s one of those things where I’m going to be back behind the lead,” Woods said when asked about his chances to catch Koepka. “And tomorrow, not just myself, but everyone’s going to have to shoot low rounds. The course is soft, it’s gettable and you can’t just go out there and make a bunch of pars, you’re going to have to make some birdies.”
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the third round tied for fifth, ballooned to a 72 and into a tie for 21st place after three bogeys and a double bogey through 16 holes on Saturday.
–Field Level Media