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.
David Hearn of Brantford, Ont., briefly the clubhouse leader during round 1, fell to 3 over for the tournament after carding 1-over 71 Saturday. Hearn looked like he was going to turn in a strong round, but he followed a bogey on 17 with a double-bogey on 18.
Tiger Woods will have to wait eight more months to end his drought in the majors after 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.
“Well,” he said, “it was hard to me. I didn’t played very well today. I didn’t hit it very good, didn’t make anything, kept blocking every putt. So it was a tough day.”
Woods has made only seven birdies in 54 holes - four of them on par 3s.
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 as well as anyone 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."
MICKELSON MUZZLED: Phil Mickelson arrived at Oak Hill Country Club riding a massive wave of momentum, still basking in his brilliant win at the Open Championship at Muirfield. But momentum is a fickle force in sports and no more so than on the golf course where a multiple major winner can drop off the map while unknowns take their place in the spotlight.
Just three weeks after Mickelson had hailed his final round at the British Open as one of his best ever, the third round of the PGA Championship may be remembered as one of his worst after bumbling his way to a shocking eight-over 78.
Mickelson began his day smartly with a birdie at the third but it was pretty much downhill from there as the world number two followed immediately with a bogey at the fourth.
Lefty’s nosedive picked up speed with a triple-bogey seven at the seventh and another bogey at the ninth.
The horror show extended to the back nine where Mickelson capped a cringe worthy display by dropping five shots over his final five holes, including a double-bogey six at 14 and bogey-bogey finish.
Not surprisingly, Mickelson had nothing to say about his dismal display, brushing past the cameras and microphones without offering comment.
On top of the golfing world at the start of the week, Mickelson had a very different view on Saturday, sitting on 10-over with only Gary Woodland at 13-over standing between the five-times major winner and the bottom of the leaderboard.
MCILROY REBOUND: Two moments of magic, a monster putt and a chip-in, gave Rory McIlroy a spectacular birdie-birdie finish to Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship to get his title defence back on track.
A distant nine strokes off the pace overnight after narrowly avoiding a second successive missed cut in a major, McIlroy sank a 50-footer at the treacherous 17th, then chipped in from behind the green at the last to complete a three-under-par 67.
The Northern Irishman, who has been desperately searching for form and confidence during a poor season by his standards, birdied two of the toughest holes on the East Course to finish at three-under 207, five strokes off the early lead.
“I’ve got another 18 to play, and hopefully I can just keep playing the way I am," said McIlroy. "It was good to feel the sort of rush again.”
McIlroy, who coasted to victory by a record eight strokes in last year’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, had not given up on his title bid this week, even after flirting with the cutline during the second round.
“I thought two 65s would still have a chance, so 10 under par,” McIlroy said of his target over the weekend. “I felt like I still had a chance. Every time I’m in that position, I just think back to Quail Hollow a few years ago and what I did the weekend there.”
McIlroy made the cut by a single stroke at the 2010 Quail Hollow Championship before shooting a 66 on Saturday and a course record 10-under-par 62 on Sunday to blow away a top-quality field by four shots.
AND THE WINNER IS: Golf fans have had their say and selected a Sunday pin placement on the par-3 15th that will bring water into play in the final round of the PGA Championship. The PGA of America says more than 92,000 voters cast their ballot online for pin position C among the four options that were offered.
The hole will be 25 yards from the front of the green and only four yards from the right side where a lake borders the edge of the putting surface.
“The PGA of America is excited by the extremely positive response we have received,” PGA of America president Ted Bishop said. “Our goal was to ensure that golf fans worldwide were more engaged with the 95th PGA Championship than ever before, and we are delighted with the results.
Jack Nicklaus, a 14-time major champion and the face of the interactive campaign, said he voted for the winning option.
”It’s probably the most dangerous of the hole locations, especially if a player is trying to get it close,“ Nicklaus said. ”But that hole also gives a player an option if he wants to play conservatively, because there is plenty of room short left.“
LEFT OUT: Jeff Overton ended up being first alternate at the PGA Championship. It was the first time since 2008 that he did not play in the final major of the year, and based on a series of tweets early Saturday morning, he wasn't happy about it.
One tweet mentioned the PGA Championship had two sponsor's invitations. "Who did you give your invites to? Not the guy that helped make you 50 million in Wales," he tweeted.
He followed that with two more shots at the PGA of America.
"@PGAChampionship I'm just saying. Ill play ur political picks whenever for wherever."
"So. In other words u help make a corporation 50 to 100 million dollars. 3 years later they put u on a chair n treat u like a piece of ..."
Overton eventually deleted the series of tweets.
In lowering the boom on the PGA of America, Overton failed to look at his own performance. Not only has he never won on tour, he has plunged to No. 151 in the world. He is outside the top 100 in the FedEx Cup standings. He has one top-10 finish this year - a tie for seventh at the Texas Open - and has finished outside the top 25 in all the rest.
Overton also wrong in saying the PGA of America had two sponsor invitations. By its own criteria, the PGA awarded 42 exemptions. Most of those go to players inside the top 100 in the world because the PGA Championship wants the strongest field of any major.
The PGA wound up taking nine players outside the top 100. Only one of them, Ryo Ishikawa at No. 163, has a lower ranking than Overton.
Overton later tweeted he was going to play Liberty National this weekend, site of the opening FedEx Cup playoff event. Perhaps he might run into Jim Colbert, the former PGA Tour player famous for listening to players complain and giving them advice that still stands: "Play better."
HANGING IN: Fifteen years after he first contended for a major, Steve Stricker has another chance in semi-retirement.
This will require quite a bit more work.
"I'm in a decent spot," Stricker said after an even-par 70 left him four shots behind Jim Furyk. "I've got a chance. That's all I can ask for, I guess."
Stricker has played sparingly this year, even skipping the British Open as he tries to spend more time with his wife and two children. He's still among the top players in the game, and the most dangerous on the greens.
"There's a lot of great players up there on top," he said. "Furyk is obviously playing well. Adam Scott is up there. It's going to be a lot of fun. Just have to be patient and go out there and hopefully get off to a good start and get righ in the mix real early."
Stricker shared the 54-hole lead at Sahalee in the 1998 PGA Championship and was runner-up by two shots.
NOT GIVING UP: Lee Westwood had a 68 that put him at 3-under 207 for the tournament, and when he walked off the course, he thought he might be better off than he was. Oak Hill was tough Saturday in a swirling wind, and the leaders were dropping shots.
"I played with Jonas Blixt and he is 6 under," Westwood said. "He could quite conceivably be leading at the end of the day. That would only be three off the lead. You don't know what's going to happen in the last round of a major."
Turns out Jim Furyk finished strong for a 68 to reach 9 under. Westwood was six shots behind.
And there's still no reason to lose hope. Remember, Phil Mickelson was five shots behind Westwood going into the last round at the British Open and won by three.
"So anything is possible on the Sunday of a major," he said.
Files from Associated Press and Reuters were used in this reportReport Typo/Error