Mito Pereira will carry a three-shot lead into the final day of the 104th US PGA Championship after a brutal third round that prompted an ailing Tiger Woods to withdraw from the season's second major at Southern Hills in Tulsa.
Wood performed a minor miracle to make the cut by a stroke on Friday as he followed an opening 74 with a one-under 69, but the wheels came off in garish fashion on Saturday as he slumped to a nine-over 79.
It was his third worst round at a major since he turned professional in 1996. Yet still better than his storm-lashed 81 at the 2002 Open Championship around Muirfield or the 80 he clocked amid ongoing back problems during the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay.
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The life-threatening injuries he sustained in a car crash in February 2021 continue to impede his ability to play pain-free golf on such gruelling days when the weather conditions prove more exacting than the yardage.
Woods bravely managed to avoid an 80 by covering the final four holes in minus one, but has seen enough. For this week at least.
"I just didn't play well. I didn't hit the ball very well," said the 15-time major winner, who dropped to a morale-shattering plus 12 and joint last spot after starting the day at three over. "I'm sore."
“I thought I hit a good tee shot down the 2nd and ended up in the water. I just never really got any kind of momentum on my side.
I couldn’t get off the bogey train. I didn’t do anything right. I didn’t hit many good shots. Consequently, I ended up with a pretty high score.
Woods finished 47th at the US Masters last month, but will attempt to improve his physical condition before the US Open at Brookline (13-19 June) and the 150th Open Championship hosted by St Andrews (14-17 July) this summer.
Based on extensive rehab that see ice baths become order of the day as much as the practice range, it is astonishing that Woods has made such a swift recovery to be in this position, but the hard yards remain.
Simply to be competing is a triumph and torture for the game's greatest player with his limp hobbling his ability to maintain consistency of swing.
“It’s not easy to see a guy like him have to go through that and struggle like that," said his playing partner Shaun Norris, who battled for a 74 of his own. "He’s swinging it nicely and I think he’ll be back once he gets back to normal health and sorts out all the problems."
On a windy and cold third round that saw the unheralded 27-year-old Chilean Pereira – chasing a fabled first tour victory in only his second major – replace overnight leader Will Zalatoris (73) as the man to catch in Tulsa with a timely 69, Woods was not the only player to find the conditions to their extreme disliking.
Two-time PGA Tour winner Patton Kizzire slumped to a round of 78 after opening efforts of 69 and 75 before taking to Instagram to bemoan the reconstructed set-up at Southern Hills, hosting the event for the first time since Woods emerged victorious for a fourth time in 2007.
"Pitiful golf on a pitiful setup on an overrated golf course," he wrote on Instagram.
World No 100 Pereira was four shots clear of the field on the seventh before responding to four bogeys in five holes with further birdies on 13 and 14.
A birdie from 25 feet at the last sees the man from Santiago become the first debutant at a PGA Championship to hold the 54-hole lead since John Daly's famous trend-setting win at Crooked Stick in 1991.
"Today it was a really tough day. It was windy, cold, gusting," said Pereira after nudging himself to nine under, the target set by Zalatoris after the second round. "I thought I hit it really well. Hit some bad shots. But it's normal.
So I think I'm hitting the ball just awesome.
Rory McIlroy began the day with high hopes of emulating his PGA victories in 2012 and 2014, but a tournament-wrecking 74 left the Northern Irishman on level par, nine strokes adrift of the leader as he got caught in the carnage.
Opportunity knocks for someone with the leading six men chasing the Wanamaker Trophy in Oklahoma yet to win a major.
England's Matthew Fitzpatrick had earlier this week described the course as "not really my cup of tea", but he would certainly have enjoyed his evening refreshment on Saturday after draining a birdie at the last to sign for a 67.
Fitzpatrick – with his one top-10 finish at a major coming at the 2016 US Masters – will join Pereira in the final group on Sunday as he bids to chase down the three-stroke deficit.
"I feel like whenever I've had a chance in Europe, I've played very well," he said. "Even over here when I've had chances to win, if you really look, I've not had that many chances to win. But when I have, I've played well. I've not lost it.
I'm more just looking forward to it more than anything. It's a chance to win and just want to – I'll happily go tee off now if we can.
The final pairing start out at 7.35pm (BST) armed with dreams that many more fancied players – among them major winners Bubba Watson (73) and Justin Thomas (74) – probably no longer possess after heading south at Southern Hills.
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US PGA Championship third round leaderboard
- -9 M Pereira (Chi)
- -6 M Fitzpatrick (Eng)
- -6 W Zalatoris (US)
- -5 C Young (US)
- -4 A Ancer (Mex)
- -3 S Power (Ire)
- -2 B Watson (US)
- -2 J Thomas (US)
- -2 S Cink (US)
US PGA CHAMPIONSHIP 4TH ROUND TEE TIMES (Eastern Time – BST +5hrs)
- 8 AM -- Maverick McNealy, Sepp Straka
- 8:09 AM -- Robert MacIntyre, Patton Kizzire
- 8:18 AM -- Jason Kokrak, Billy Horschel
- 8:27 AM -- Adam Hadwin, Thomas Pieters
- 8:36 AM -- Beau Hossler, Si Woo Kim
- 8:45 AM -- Justin Harding, Jon Rahm
- 8:55 AM -- Collin Morikawa, Kevin Streelman
- 9:05 AM -- Francesco Molinari, Kramer Hickok
- 9:15 AM -- Louis Oosthuizen, Shaun Norris
- 9:25 AM -- Lanto Griffin, Charl Schwartzel
- 9:35 AM -- Keith Mitchell, Marc Leishman
- 9:45 AM -- Cameron Davis, Hideki Matsuyama
- 9:55 AM -- Tony Finau, Viktor Hovland
- 10:05 AM -- Denny McCarthy, Jordan Spieth
- 10:15 AM -- Jason Day, Keegan Bradley
- 10:25 AM -- Troy Merritt, Adam Schenk
- 10:45 AM -- Brian Harman, Luke List
- 10:55 AM -- Harold Varner III, Brooks Koepka
- 11:05 AM -- Bernd Wiesberger, Talor Gooch
- 11:15 AM -- K.H. Lee, Shane Lowry
- 11:25 AM -- Rikuya Hoshino, Russell Henley
- 11:35 AM -- Tyrrell Hatton, Sebastián Muñoz
- 11:45 AM -- Cameron Tringale, Patrick Reed
- 11:55 AM -- Aaron Wise, Rickie Fowler
- 12:05 PM -- Laurie Canter, Justin Rose
- 12:15 PM -- Matt Kuchar, Lucas Glover
- 12:25 PM -- Joaquin Niemann, Cameron Smith
- 12:35 PM -- Brendan Steele, Kevin Na
- 12:45 PM -- Adri Arnaus, Rory McIlroy
- 12:55 PM -- Ryan Fox, Tom Hoge
- 1:05 PM -- Xander Schauffele, Tommy Fleetwood
- 1:15 PM -- Chris Kirk, Davis Riley
- 1:25 PM -- Sam Burns, Gary Woodland
- 1:35 PM -- Lucas Herbert, Max Homa
- 1:55 PM -- Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson
- 2:05 PM -- Stewart Cink, Justin Thomas
- 2:15 PM -- Abraham Ancer, Seamus Power
- 2:25 PM -- Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young
- 2:35 PM -- Mito Pereira, Matthew Fitzpatrick
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