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, defending PGA champion Rory McIlroy who charged up the leaderboard. The 24-year-old birdied the last two holes — among the toughest on the course — for a 67 that pushed his score to 3-under 207. He chipped in at the 18th, pumping his fist as he went to retrieve his ball.
Over his last 25 holes going back to Friday, when it looked for a while as if he might miss the cut, McIlroy is 7 under with only one bogey.
After a season-long slump that included missing the cut at the British Open, he suddenly looks more like the player who romped to a record eight-stroke victory at Kiawah Island last year, earning his second major championship.
“It’s getting there,” McIlroy said. “It was good to feel that sort of rush again.”
Only two players have overcome deficits of six strokes or more to win a major since 2007 - Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington.
The good news for McIlroy and others chasing Furyk and Dufner is that the first three major champions of 2013 have all come from outside the final pairing.
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