ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Here’s a quick look at some of the big stories from the third round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill, played on a soggy Saturday in western New York.
Brooks Koepka holds a one-shot lead as he seeks his fifth major and third victory in the PGA Championship. Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners, both chasing their first major, are one shot back.
Brooks Koepka used a second consecutive 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill. He sits at 6-under 204 (72-66-66). A victory would make him just the sixth man to win three or more PGA Championships. Jack Nicklaus and Rochester native Walter Hagen have five apiece, Tiger Woods has won four PGAs, and Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead each have three.
Koepka won four majors from 2017-19 and had a chance to end his four-year drought last month at Augusta. He held at least a share of the lead after each of the first three rounds but shot a final-round 75 to finish four shots behind Jon Rahm. It was the first time he lost a 54-hole lead in a major, having successfully converted his previous three. Now he has a chance to make amends.
Koepka said he was awake the entire night after that final round at Augusta National, trying to determine what caused him to stumble that Sunday. He declined to share what he learned, however.
“Learning what I learned at Augusta kind of helped today,” he said. “I won’t do it again the rest of my career. … I’ll never have that mindset or that won’t ever be the reason (I don’t win).”
Hov-ering around the lead: Viktor Hovland’s lack of major success earlier in his career was perplexing considering his ballstriking proficiency. That has changed rapidly. Hovland, 25, is contention for the third consecutive major. He’ll start the final round tied with Corey Conners, one behind leader Brooks Koepka.
“I don’t think this is a course where you can kind of get too crazy,” Hovland said. “You have to play smart, play for middle of the greens and give yourself a lot of looks and hopefully get that putter hot.”
Hovland played alongside Rory McIlroy in the final group at last year’s Open Championship, finishing fourth. He was seventh at the Masters after holding the first-round lead and beginning the final round in third place. No longer “young and stupid,” as he referred to himself earlier this week, he’s now employing the tried-and-true strategy for success in golf’s biggest events.
“You just have to wear out the center of the green,” he said. He leads the field in Strokes Gained: Approach and is second in greens in regulation, hitting at least 13 greens in each round.
Canada’s leading man: Oak Hill is not far from Canada, and those who have crossed the border to watch the PGA Championship will have one of their own to root on in the final round. Corey Conners continued his steady play after starting Saturday with a share of the lead. He made two birdies and one double-bogey Saturday to shoot 70 and finish the day one shot behind Koepka. Conners hit 14 greens on Saturday.
The double-bogey came after Conners drove into a fairway bunker on the 16th hole, then hit the next shot thin. His ball embedded in the face of the bunker and even after a free drop, he was left with an awkward lie on a steep slope.
“We had a laugh about it, really,” Conners said. “It was an unfortunate situation and a poor shot. Didn’t really affect the last few holes. Just tried to give myself a couple looks on 17 and 18.”
He rebounded from the miscue to par Oak Hill’s two trying closing holes.
Rory lurking: The rains, the roars and the Rors.
Rory McIlroy’s chances to hoist a trophy in his adopted second home of western New York are limited. Majors don’t come around here too much. He knows this, and the crowds at Oak Hill are very much behind him.
Despite struggles off the tee for much of the week, he’ll have a chance Sunday for his third Wanamaker Trophy and fifth major title.
McIlroy carded 1-under 69 in Saturday’s third round at Oak Hill to post 1-under 209 through 54 holes, five shots back of Koepka. The world No. 3 recorded three bogeys in a four-hole stretch to close his front nine, then bounced back with three back-nine birdies. He hacked it around the 17th but saved bogey with an up-and-down from behind the green, and he got up-and-down for par at the last. He’s within striking distance in pursuit of his first major title since 2014.
“I still don’t feel like my game is in great shape,” McIlroy said Saturday night. “I’ve held it together well. I’ve holed some good putts. I’ve scored well.”
McIlroy, whose wife Erica hails from Rochester, has found just 13 of 42 fairways this week, near the bottom of the field. But his strength to muscle the ball out of the rough has paid dividends. With rounds of 71-69-69, he’s not out of it.
Justin Rose (2 under): The 2013 U.S. Open champion has carded three rounds at par or better this week to remain within striking distance in pursuit of his second major title.
Scottie Scheffler (2 under): The former Masters and PLAYERS champion uncharacteristically struggled after starting Saturday with a share of the lead. He bogeyed his first two holes, and added two more at Nos. 6 and 7, en route to a 73. He made one birdie and no bogeys over his final 11 holes.
Michael Block (even par): The PGA’s Cinderella story continued, as the California club pro authored his third consecutive 70 to remain in contention. He will enter the final round in eighth place.
Tommy Fleetwood (1 over): The Englishman, a popular choice as best player yet to win a major, will have an outside shot at his first major title on Sunday. He carded one of Saturday’s low rounds, 2-under 68, including a bogey-free second nine with a birdie at 17.
Min Woo Lee (1 over): The Australian was under par for the week before a double bogey at the par-5 13th Saturday. With rounds of 73-67-71, he’ll enter Sunday around the top 10. He would earn Special Temporary Membership on TOUR with a top-27 finish.
*Credit Information to www.pgatour.com