A friend called after the third round of the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, and said, “Boy, I can’t wait to see who you’re going to write about tomorrow!” He was referring to the leaderboard jam packed with the Tour’s superstars. How do you pick somebody out of this stampede?
-13 – Rory McIlroy
-12 – Bernd Wiesberger
-11 – Rickie Fowler
-10 – Phil Mickelson, Jason Day
-9 – Louis Oosthuizen, Henrik Stenson, Mikko Ilonen, Ryan Palmer
-8 – Jamie Donaldson, Graham Delaet, Steve Stricker
-7 – Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott, Kevin Chappell, Lee Westwood, Joost Luiten, Jim Furyk
Given that all Rory McIlroy is thinking about is making more birdies to extend his lead, 7-under is probably the outer limit for somebody to make a run to the top. And even then, the odds are against them.
But this guy Bernd Wiesberger right behind McIlroy has two wins on the European Tour and played mindlessly on Saturday. The highlight reel of his approach shots included one that he hit to inches on 17 from 168 yards. And he did that under the pressure of playing with Phil. So he’s tasted the big-crowd fire.
Ho hum, it’s another major and here’s Rickie Fowler with another Top 5. His work with Butch Harmon has inspired him and his natural athleticism has helped him master it. Brandel Chamblee noted how natural and free he looks already, something it takes most players much longer to master. Plus, he’s going to be paired with Phil, a big comfort because they team up in the Tuesday money games.
Ditto for Phil, of course. Plus Phil was talking about how his 3rd round 67 really broke open the possibility of his game that he has been waiting all year for. You could hear the excitement in his voice as he spoke about that low round that was finally just right there.
Louis Oosthuizen may have the best swing on Tour. Its clean up-and-down efficiency has been attracting voters for quite some time. And he’s finally getting back up to full strength again after favoring a turned ankle that was hobbling him ever so slightly but just enough.
Henrik Stenson has been a ball-striking machine and now his putter is coming back into form. Plus he’s so fit, he looks bigger than his 6’2″ and he’s one of he smartest well-spoken players on Tour. His wit has the possibility of keeping himself entertained and relaxed as he tries to make a push to the top.
Ryan Palmer was all over the television coverage the first two days because of his fine play in difficult conditions, but his 2-under on Saturday wasn’t enough to keep pace with the herd. But when he’s on, he has no problem going low (a 63 and two 64s this season).
The guys at 8- and 7-under are going to need some help from the top. None of them are accidental tourists and, in blind chase mode, all of them are capable of magic.
And blind chase mode is going to be the order of the day. With an inch of rain on the course during the week, the greens have been substantially softened. The players give up distance off the tee, but they can rifle mid-irons right at the pins without fear of ricochets into oblivion.
But then that’s also a big advantage for Rory given the ball striking he’s demonstrated so far this week.
So if should be great fun for those of his watching from outside the ropes. But perhaps Phil sums it up best when asked if this kind of logjam is fun for him:
“It’s more fun when I’ve separated myself or when there is just a couple of guys. That’s more fun because you don’t have to worry about everybody else. When there is this many guys, I don’t look at the leaderboard. I just know I’ve got to push and keep making birdies. It’s a little bit different than if there were only a few and then I would be watching what those few were doing.”
It has the potential to be a spectacular scoring day for a bunch of very talented guys and who knows who will prevail? My friend’s instincts were right.