Pereira nearly holes his wedge out of the bunker at 1, but the ball rolls six feet past. Zalatoris doesn’t threaten the cup with his attempt, and can’t get any closer. He hits a tentative par saver, and has to tap in for an opening bogey. Pereira makes his putt coming back for par, and the 27-year-old PGA debutant has a share of the lead!
-8: Pereira (1), Zalatoris (1)
-5: Watson (1), Thomas (1)
-4: Ancer (2), McIlroy (2)
Not the ideal start for Justin Thomas, who sends his second at 1 down a swale, and can’t get up and down to escape with par. Leading for so long yesterday afternoon, he slips back to -5, now four off the lead. But there’s some instant hope for the chasing pack as nerves jangle in the final group: both Will Zalatoris and Mito Pereira send their second shots at 1 into the bunker guarding the front right of the green. A couple of potentially round-defining splashes coming up!
“Of course, golf is a very strange game,” begins John Weldon. “It was invented by the Scots, after all, to screw up the English. Just look at Tyrrell Hatton.” Haw! Speaking of everyone’s favourite volcanic golfer, he ended up with a triple-bogey seven after finding the drink at 2. He crashes back to level par, steam pouring from his lugs. Goodness knows what mood he’ll be in tomorrow should Manchester City seal the title with another 94th-minute goal to deny his beloved Liverpool. One way or another, he could be worth keeping an eye on. Actually, the ever-entertaining Hatton is always worth keeping an eye on, but you get the general gist.
Matt Fitzpatrick and Davis Riley are out together today, but they didn’t have such a good time down the 1st. Bogeys for the pair of them, and they drop to -2 and -3 respectively. Better news for the 2019 US Open champ Gary Woodland, who cards his first birdie of the day at 4 to move to -3. And some Dambusters-esque delight for Jordan Spieth on 12: having sent his tee shot into the trees down the left, he tries to punch his way under branches towards the green. His ball heads towards a creek, but instead of dunking into the briny, it aquaplanes. One bounce and he’s over! Dry! However he’s been just off it all week, despite clinging onto hope with his fingernails, and he chunks the chip he’s left with. He can’t make the par saver and that’s the bogey his second shot deserved in the first place. He’s +4 … and there’s been some quite strange golf today.
A nerve-settling start for Rory McIlroy … perhaps. He sends his opening drive into the rough down the left, then pulls his approach into a bunker at the back of the green. But he splashes out to three feet, and tidies up for his par. He remains at -4, as does his playing partner today Abraham Ancer, who traverses the hole in a much less dramatic fashion. A textbook meander, straight down the middle.
There could be some dramatic fun and games on the shortened 296-yard par-four 17th later on. Marc Leishman illustrates this by driving the green, 299 yards to nine feet, then sinking the eagle putt. He rises to +6, and could sell that later to a few of the leaders for several shiny bronze tokens.
Sepp Straka became the first Austrian to win on the PGA Tour back in February, pipping Shane Lowry to the Honda Classic at the PGA National by a shot. The 29-year-old from Vienna has since made the top ten at the Players Championship and the top 30 at the Masters, but he’ll not do so well this week. He’s just completed a third-round 79, joining Tiger, Maverick McNealy and Patton Kizzire at the bottom of the leaderboard at +12 … and yet he does so with a wide smile, having finished with back-to-back birdies, the last a chip-in from the front of 18! He was 12 over for his round through 12, so that’s quite a salvage job, the other birdie coming at 13. Once more with feeling: golf, very, very, etc.
Jordan Spieth, already with the Masters, US Open and Open on his resumé, went into the week hoping to complete the career slam by lifting the Wanamaker Trophy. After opening rounds of 72 and 69, he needed a quick start today if he was to have any chance of bursting from the pack and hunting down the leaders. But he didn’t get it. Sending his second at 1 into greenside rough down the right, he trundled his chip through the green and off down a swale. He nearly holed his wedge back up, but the ball missed the flagstick by millimetres and raced five feet by. He couldn’t make the bogey putt coming back, and the double bumped him down to +3. It’s over. He’s just been spotted chatting away at himself in his usual expansive style, a birdie putt at 10 resting stubbornly on the lip. Maybe next year at Oak Hill, huh.
It’s fair to say most people expected Jon Rahm to be the leading Spaniard this week. Instead, it’s Adri Arnaus leading the Iberian charge. Birdie at 2 has just been followed by another at 5, and the 27-year-old from Barcelona is enjoying his PGA Championship debut. He’s -2 for the week. Rahm, for the record, is four over for his round today, currently +6 overall through 14.
Back to the business end of the leaderboard, then. As mentioned earlier (6.12pm) Tyrrell Hatton has been saying his piece about the bobbly greens. All eyes on his first putt today, then … and of course he rolls it in smoothly from 18 feet for an opening birdie. A fast start for the trenchant Englishman, who rises to -3 immediately. All of which makes what happens next even more predictable: he sends his tee shot whistling into a creek at the 2nd. He’ll have to take a penalty drop, and will most probably be handing that shot back in short order. Golf is a very, very, very, etc.
Tiger finds 18 in regulation. He’s pretty bold with his 45-foot birdie putt, though. Uh-oh Tiger. He’s left with a five-footer coming back for par and a 79. Ah, never in doubt! Straight in! He’s +12, but more importantly avoids a third major-championship round in the 80s. The only time he’s done that? An 81 in awful conditions at the 2002 Open at Muirfield, and an 80 at the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, when your ever-dependable hole-by-hole hack described Woods and Rickie Fowler, his playing partner that day who shot 81, as “the Maurice Flitcroft and Walter Danecki de nos jours”. You’re welcome.
Par for Webb Simpson at 18, and the 2012 US Open champion signs for a magnificent 65. He’s the new clubhouse leader at -1, for what that’s worth at this early stage. Meanwhile Tiger continues his slow prowl home. He just needs two pars to avoid a round of 80, and the nerves are beginning to jangle. He sends his tee shot at the shortened 17th into greenside sand, then nearly sends his escape down a swale. The ball just clings onto the fringe, from where he leaves his 20-foot birdie attempt a couple of feet short, enough to set the knees clacking. In goes the putt, though, and everyone at Southern Hills is hoping that the 15-time major winner will soon be signing for a 79. Golf can thrill and charm in so many different ways. Like I say, a very, very, very, very, very strange game.
Sensational scenes on 12! Kramer Hickok is making his major-championship debut this week. The 30-year-old from Dallas shot a pair of 71s to easily make the cut, but upon finding his second shot plugged in a greenside bunker on 12, already three over for his round, may have been wondering why he bothered. His attempted splash out hit the lip, rebounded onto his leg, then settled in the deep footprint he’d left. A huge mountain of sand behind his ball. All he can do is attempt to batter through it and see if his ball powers out. It doesn’t, and nearly rolls back behind the mountain again. But fortunately it rolls inches past, allowing a clean strike at sand wedge number three. You already know what happens next, don’t you? Yep, straight in. The crowd go wild, his partner Jon Rahm offers a grin and a congratulatory fist bump, and golf is a very, very, very, very, very strange game indeed. Just a bogey for Hickok, who slips to +5 but will always remember that wonderful slapstick fun. Kramer’s namesake Cosmo couldn’t have done it any better.
Another birdie for Webb Simpson! He takes advantage of the significantly shorter 17th by sending his tee shot into a greenside bunker, from which he very nearly holes out. He moves into red figures at -1 for the week, and a par up the last will see him sign for a 65.
A decent start for Ryan Fox. The 35-year-old Kiwi has birdied 1 and 4 to move to -2 for the tournament. Fox has no record in the majors to speak of, but if he can just hold his position on the leaderboard for the next 32 holes, a first top-ten finish will be his. Meanwhile the 2018 Masters champion Patrick Reed, who has been quiet for some time but has shown flashes of his old self this week, opens with birdie and joins Fox at -2.
Tiger isn’t the only one struggling today, though. Low scores really are at a premium right now, with the vast majority of the early starters currently over par for their rounds. There’s certainly not much in the way of dramatic upward momentum. But a few of the early starters are offering the field some hope. Sebastián Muñoz and Rikuya Hoshino are in with one-under 69s, while Lucas Glover has shot 68. Most strikingly of all, the 2012 US Open champion Webb Simpson is spectacularly bucking the trend; he’s four under for his round today through 16, thanks to a run of birdie-eagle-birdie through holes 12, 13 and 14. The eagle, on the second par five, was the result of a hole out from 80 yards. So, you know, we’ve given the conditions the big one, but it can be done. Simpson is level par for the tournament.
… so having just said all that, Tiger rolls in a 30-foot right-to-left slinger on 15 for his first birdie of the day! He chalks up an imaginary figure one, then allows a cheeky grin of self deprecation spread across his face. He’s +12, and if he can just par his way home, he’ll avoid posting a score in the 80s.
The halfway leader Will Zalatoris was 12 days old when Tiger Woods turned pro in 1996. The living legend has done marvellously well to make the weekend on one-and-a-half legs, but the old bones are creaking a bit in the cold today. Tiger’s played 14 holes so far today, and he’s ten over for his round, the biggest blot on his card a triple-bogey at the par-three 6th, finding water off the tee. He’s +13 right now, and while it’s dispiriting to witness the great man hobbling around, this all helps his recovery as he looks to rebuild and compete seriously at St Andrews for the 150th Open.
Some better news for the low-score-dreaming chasing pack. The PGA have moved up the tee boxes on the par-five 13th and par-four 17th, the holes playing significantly shorter today. The 13th was a mammoth 636 yards yesterday; it’s just 531 now. The 17th meanwhile has been shortened from 370 yards to 296. That should please the ever-entertaining Tyrrell Hatton, who at the start of the week said: “I think the PGA and USGA seem to be in a bit of a fight about who’s got the longest golf course and who’s got the longest par-3. It would be nice if they were a bit more creative with course setup rather than just trying to make it hard through length all the time.” Here’s to them also sorting out the state of the greens, which Hatton also has an opinion on, saying last night: “I mean, we’re playing a major championship, not a monthly medal. You know, they’re bubbling all over the place. It’s so hard to hole putts. So you can hit a great putt and they just don’t look like going in, which is hard to accept when we’re playing in a major championship.” More fireworks later today, maybe!
The first big story of Moving Day? The shift in the weather. It’s a lot cooler today, with temperatures dropping to around 12 or 13 degrees Celsius. A few showers may be a-coming, too. Not only that, the direction of the wind has turned about face; it’s now coming from the north, a breeze of 12 to 18 mph gusting as high as 30, and the course is a different proposition accordingly. Southern Hills got a good old soaking last night, as well, so with less roll out, scoring isn’t expected to be particularly low. Then again, few were loudly predicting scores of 63, 64 and 65 yesterday, even when the wind dropped in the afternoon, so you never know if someone will pull something out of the bag. Let’s see.
It’s Moving Day! Here’s how the top of the leaderboard looked after 36 holes …
-4: Ancer, McIlroy, Riley
-3: Fitzpatrick, Cink
-2: Young, Burns, Smith, Kuchar, Hatton, Kirk, Woodland
-1: Na, Reed, Homa, Wiesberger, Niemann, Gooch
… here’s a selected list of players who missed the cut …
Scottie Scheffler, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Harry Higgs, Daniel Berger, Matthew Wolff, Corey Conners, Christiaan Bezuidenhout, Ian Poulter, Branden Grace, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood and former champions John Daly, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, YE Yang, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer and Jason Dufner.
… and here are today’s tee times (all BST). It’s on!
1.37 pm: Brian Harman
1.46 pm: Lucas Glover, Sebastian Munoz
1.55 pm: Cam Davis, Rikuya Hoshino
2.04 pm: Patton Kizzire, Hideki Matsuyama
2.13 pm: Maverick McNealy, Luke List
2.22 pm: Keith Mitchell, Charl Schwartzel
2.31 pm: Louis Oosthuizen, Billy Horschel
2.40 pm: Collin Morikawa, Webb Simpson
2.49 pm: Si Woo Kim, Adam Hadwin
2.58 pm: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris
3.07 pm: Troy Merritt, Kevin Streelman
3.16 pm: Sepp Straka, Adam Schenk
3.25 pm: Jason Day, Russell Henley
3.34 pm: Justin Harding, Marc Leishman
3.43 pm: Brendan Steele, Laurie Canter
3.52 pm: Thomas Pieters, Francesco Molinari
4.10 pm: Jon Rahm, Kramer Hickok
4.19 pm: Keegan Bradley, Harold Varner III
4.28 pm: Brooks Koepka, Jason Kokrak
4.37 pm: K.H. Kee, Shane Lowry
4.46 pm: Justin Rose, Lanto Griffin
4.55 pm: Denny McCarthy, Jordan Spieth
5.04 pm: Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau
5.13 pm: Aaron Wise, Robert MacIntyre
5.22 pm: Tommy Fleetwood, Lucas Herbert
5.31 pm: Ryan Fox, Rickie Fowler
5.40 pm: Beau Hossler, Tom Hoge
5.49 pm: Adri Arnaus, Viktor Hovland
5.58 pm: Cameron Tringale, Seamus Power
6.07 pm: Patrick Reed, Kevin Na
6.16 pm: Bernd Wiesberger, Max Homa
6.25 pm: Talor Gooch, Joaquin Niemann
6.34 pm: Sam Burns, Gary Woodland
6.43 pm: Cameron Smith, Cameron Young
6.52 pm: Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar
7.10 pm: Stewart Cink, Chris Kirk
7.20 pm: Davis Riley, Matt Fitzpatrick
7.30 pm: Rory McIlroy, Abraham Ancer
7.40 pm: Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson
7.50 pm: Will Zalatoris, Mito Pereira
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