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PGA Championship: Logjam at the top of the leaderboard makes for a fantastic Sunday

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The reason golf is such a demanding and maddening sport is that you can’t put away a single hole. Each of the 72 holes has the potential to turn your round on its head, and for Xander Schauffele, that hole ended up being the 15th on his third day.

Schauffele had held the outright lead after both previous rounds, and after making a 29-foot birdie putt on the 14th, he was -15, two strokes off the field.

But Schauffele hasn’t won a major yet, and to do that you need to keep every element of your game sharp. Scheffler flew his approach on the par-4 15th and ended up in the thick rough behind the green. One failed approach, one missed bogey putt and one birdie from Collin Morikawa, and Schauffele’s two-stroke lead turned into a one-stroke deficit with three holes to play. That’s how quickly the rankings on Moving Day can be enabled.

Both Morikawa and Schauffele were tied at 18th and finished with birdies to move to -15, two shots away from a mad dash behind them.

“You want the lead,” Schauffele said. “Against these guys, you want to make as many shots as possible, no matter how nerve-wracking it can be.”

Schauffele and Morikawa knew they had no wiggle room, thanks to a miraculous round earlier in the day from Shane Lowry. The stalwart 2019 European Ryder Cup Open champion absolutely torched Valhalla Golf Club on Saturday with a score of 62 – tied for the lowest score ever in a major. He had a chance to set the record, but his birdie putt on 18 just rolled to the left.

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“Probably the most disappointed anyone can ever shoot is 62,” Lowry smiled after the round. “I knew what was at stake.”

The record of 62 has already been reached four times, most recently by Schauffele last Thursday. Lowry is one of three players who are only two backs.

Other big names achieved low scores, which meant they won prizes on Sunday against Schauffele and Morikawa. Sahith Theegala fell to five strokes off pace before birdieing six of the last ten holes to finish on -14.

Bryson DeChambeau took 18th place, putting himself at -13, right in the hunt for a win. “Exciting,” he called the moment. “I haven’t felt like this in a long time. The only other time I felt like this was when I shot 58 at Greenbrier [at a LIV tournament in 2023].”

Victor Hovland birdied the 18th and found himself in a traffic jam at -13. Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre are one stroke back at -12.

“We’re out there fighting as much as we can, but tomorrow I’m going to be nervous,” MacIntyre admitted. “I’m going to be nervous tonight. But all I can do is try my best, and that’s honestly as much as I try to tell myself, all I can do is just try my best and see where we go end.” If I have a chance, I have a chance, and then maybe we’ll think about winning a golf tournament.”

Hometown hero Justin Thomas gave the tournament one of its most exciting moments on the 14th, when he scored a birdie in front of a huge gallery:

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“It was crazy. I had goosebumps pretty much all the way to the 15th tee,” Thomas said. “It was one of the coolest moments of my career.” Thomas is at 10 under.

A total of fifteen players are within five shots of the lead, and six are within two shots of the lead. This is one of the most densely populated fields of the PGA Championships in the last 30 years; six players were within two shots after three rounds in 2020, and seven players were within two shots in 2005.

The point of Moving Day is that you are not guaranteed to just move up in the rankings. Most notably, the chaos surrounding Scottie Scheffler finally caught up with the world number 1 on Friday. He went double-bogey-bogey over a three-hole stretch to start his round and finished the day at -7 – a 2- Over 73 was his first round above par since last August – and is almost certainly no longer a factor to win his second major or a Grand Slam.

Earlier, defending champion Brooks Koepka struggled through a +3 day that could have been even worse had he not birdied his final two holes. Koepka finished the day at -3 and well off the pace.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, finished with a three-under 68, leaving him at -8, well off the pace of the leaders. McIlroy left at least four strokes behind on the course with less than purposeful putting, and he knew exactly what he had missed.

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“I putted really well on Thursday, and the last couple of days it let me down a little bit,” McIlroy said after the round. “I need the putter to warm up a little bit again, and with everything else it’s doing, there’s definitely still a layer in me.”

Statistics show that only half a dozen players are in a position to win. Twelve of the last thirteen PGA champions, Elias Sports Bureau notes, were won by a player within two shots of the lead after 54 holes. The only exception: Justin Thomas, who won from seven in 2022, requiring a 72nd hole collapse from Mito Pereira. So there is always a chance.

“There are going to be guys who take it very, very low at first,” Morikawa said. “There are a lot of guys who can do a lot tomorrow.”

The weather for Sunday is expected to be warm and clear; the rain and fog that haunted this tournament in the early days appear to be over. Several of the world’s best players have just one night left to figure out how to win the second major of the year.

“This is one of the big four that we’re trying to win,” Hovland said. “It’s cool history, cool trophy. Everything about it is super special. It’s a great field. You just want to be a part of it to have a name on that trophy.”

It’s worth remembering: two of the previous three PGA Championships held in Valhalla have ended in a play-off. The way the standings look after three rounds, this tournament could be headed for a third.

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