Recap of the day
Early starters: Xander Schauffele carded a 2-under-par 68 to set the first genuine clubhouse target of 3-under 207. Genuine, that is, has Brooks Koepka not been part of this championship. Indeed Schauffele immediately told the press that he was feeling a little “melancholic” about the experience of “playing for second” (see quotes below). Soon afterward Patrick Cantlay also signed for a 68 to tie his compatriot and then Hideki Matsuyama made 68 of his own to sneak one ahead of them on 4-under 206, a mark that Matt Wallace would equal.
Leaders: Dustin Johnson and Luke List managed 69s to hit 5-under 205, but both will spend some time coping with the frustration of knowing they could have done better. In contrast, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond thrived on the joy of thrashing a 67 to hit 54 holes on the same score. Harold Varner III is taking a chilled approach to his week and he matched Jazz Jane’s 67. He was the first man home on that 205 score and will play the final lap with the runaway leader. Because no-one could catch Brooks Koepka who endured the first poor stretch of golf of his week at, and shortly after, the turn, but he coped with it, recovered and eventually carded a level-par 70 for a 198 12-under total that gives him a seven-shot lead heading into the final round.
Low round of the day: The 67s of Varner III and Janewattananond
Revised outright betting: Koepka 1/12, Johnson 20/1, List 66/1, Varner III 100/1, Janewattananond 100/1, Matsuyama 125/1, Schauffele 125/1
Sunday weather forecast
Expect cloudy conditions with temperatures in the mid-60s and a 20% chance of rain. Wind is predicted to be around 15mph.
Leaders after at 54 holes
Brooks Koepka (69, 198) – Two early birdies, but then started making errors as he neared the turn and continued it afterward. However, he limited the damage to just two bogeys during that spell before adding a late birdie and bogey. Ranks first for SG: Tee to Green (17.299), SG: Approach the Green (11.159), Greens in Regulation (79.63%) and Scrambling (81.82%).
Harold Varner III (67, 205) – Made a bogey on his first hole of the second round, but is now 35 holes without error and 7-under in that stretch. Ranks second for SG: Putting (12.063) and third for Scrambling (77.78%).
Jazz Janewattananond (67, 205) – Ticked four birdies in ten holes, but two late bogeys threatened to ruin his day until an 18th hole par breaker. Ranks third for SG: Putting (6.779).
Luke List (69, 205) – Made the turn in level-par, added a birdie hat-trick midway through the back nine, but then closed with back-to-back bogeys. Ranks second for SG: Around the Green (5.083).
Dustin Johnson (69, 205) – A tale of two nines: Four birdies, one bogey to the turn, four bogeys, two birdies on the way home. In SG he ranks second Tee to Green (10.355), third Off the Tee (4.921) and fourth Approach the Green (4.927).
Fate of the Favourites
Dustin Johnson – see above
Rory McIlroy (69, 212) – Drained a 32’3” eagle putt at the fourth and had nothing more than a tap-in birdie at the 225-yard par-3 eighth. But having been bogey-free to the turn he dropped two shots on the way home. He has a decent SG: Off the tee number (3.637), but has negative number on and around the greens.
Brooks Koepka – see above
Tiger Woods – missed the cut (and rumor has it flew to Northern Ireland for a Portrush recce).
Rory McIlroy (69) – “What Brooks is doing is awesome. It's so good. It's great to watch. I watched most of it yesterday afternoon. He's definitely, in these events, playing on a different level than most anyone else.”
Xander Schauffele (68) – “I don't see (Koepka) giving up. I don't know if the tournament is just less fun because I'm 15 shots back or what it is, but it's very melancholic because every time I look up, I'm 10 to 12 back. No-one likes to play for second, but that's sort of what he's doing to us.”
Jazz Janewattananond (67) – “Arrived here on Monday, it was raining. Tuesday was raining. The ball didn't go anywhere. I was having a nightmare. How am I going to play this golf course? I'm not going to break 80. This is exceeding my expectation!”
Harold Varner III (67) – “It's awesome. It's going to be a great day no matter what happens. This is what you practice for, and obviously I'm super excited for the opportunity.”
Luke List (69) – “I love the golf course. I first played it during The Barclays a few years ago. I got on the property this week, I’ve been injured, not playing well, and yet I felt like it was my time to have a good week.”
Matt Wallace (70) – “There's a lot of witty comments out there. ‘Do it for the queen’ is one of my favorite ones.”
Dustin Johnson (69) – “I'm going to need some help from Brooks and then I'm going to have to play very, very well.”
Brooks Koepka (70) – “I felt I hit it pretty good. The only thing that was lacking was the speed on the green. It was definitely tougher today. The wind picked up about a club and a half. You’ve got to really get off to a good start, those first six or seven holes you really need to be a couple under and from there just hang on.”
Road to victory in the PGA Championship
2018 Brooks Koepka – R1: 33rd, R2: 3rd, R3: 1st
2017 Justin Thomas – R1: 44th, R2: 7th, R3: 4th
2016 Jimmy Walker – R1: 1st, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
2015 Jason Day – R1: 3rd, R2: 2nd, R3: 1st
2014 Rory McIlroy – R1: 4th, R2: 1st, R3: 1st
Notes: This is a championship that was always favored those at the top of the leaderboard heading into the final round. In the 21st century every winner was at the very least T4 after 54 holes. Nine of those 19 winners held the solo lead, three were sharing the lead and three were second or T2.
Extra notes: As mentioned all week we have, of course, seen two U.S. Opens and two Barclays tournaments hosted at Bethpage Black. In complete contrast to PGA Championship trends this course has favored front runners. In the 2002 U.S. Open Tiger Woods went wire-to-wire, the two Barclays winners (Nick Watney and Patrick Reed) were in the top two all week and 2009 U.S. Open winner Lucas Glover was T7 after the first round, but top two after 36 and 54 holes.
Fate of the 54-hole leaders in the PGA Championship – where did they finish?
2018 – Brooks Koepka 1st
2017 – Kevin Kisner 7th
2016 – Jimmy Walker 1st
2015 – Jason Day 1st
2014 – Rory McIlroy 1st
Notes: As indicated above, third round front runners have a great record in this event and also on this course.
Focus on – Brooks Koepka
The Florida-native has never previously experienced the riches of a seven-shot 54 hole lead, but he does have vast knowledge of taking a very big advantage into the final circuit. On the Challenge Tour (clearly a lower level, but still) he turned four and five shots leads at this stage into seven and ten shot wins. In Japan he has twice led the Dunlop Phoenix tournament by four strokes after three rounds, the first time (2016) he won by one, the second time (2017) he flew nine swings clear. And the one time he led by four on the PGA Tour (2018 CJ Cup) he also won by four. In majors he was tied for the 2018 U.S. Open lead at this stage and won by one, then he maintained a two-shot gap through the final round of last year’s PGA Championship. He is the tenth player since 1900 to lead a major by seven shots or more after 54 holes and not one of the previous nine failed to lift the trophy.
Focus on – Getting to four major championship wins
If Koepka completes the job tomorrow it will have taken him a mere 22 starts in the sport’s big four events to reach four victories. How does that compare with the greats of the game? Here are the top five accumulators of major wins, their ultimate total, and how many appearances were needed to get to win number four:
Jack Nicklaus (18) – 21
Tiger Woods (15) – 21
Walter Hagen (11) – 13
Ben Hogan (9) – 26
Gary Player (9) – 30
And what about those players currently still in action (other than Woods, above) who have already reached four:
Phil Mickelson (5) – 70
Ernie Els (4) – 79
Rory McIlroy (4) – 25
Conclusion? The past is no guarantee of the future, but as things stand the 29-year-old is keeping pace with nothing less than elite company.
Focus on – Rory McIlroy
It’s been another disappointing week for the Northern Irishman. He may have improved round-by-round (72-71-69) but it is another major championship in which he has failed to come even remotely close to contending. At this event last August his end-of-round ranking was 48th-25th-45th-50th and at the Masters 44th-36th-39th-21st. This season he has made eight regular PGA Tour starts and finished top ten every time. In the two majors? At the Masters he ended the week T21 and he looks on track for something similar this week. His current difficulties in the majors (his drought is nearing five years) makes a marked contrast with Koepka’s present form and it must hurt.