KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — For a few hours Saturday afternoon, it appeared this PGA Championship might be an unlikely coronation. Phil Mickelson was on cruise control, hitting fairways, rolling in birdie putts, thumbs-upping everyone in sight. He walked to the 11th tee with a five-shot lead. Could this really be happening? Could Phil Mickelson run away from the field and become the oldest major champion of all time?
No, it wasn’t going to be that easy. The 50-year-old Mickelson, who hadn’t won a regular Tour event in two years or a major championship in eight, started to wobble. The putts stopped going in. One tee shot went in the water, another underneath the tire of a golf cart. The lead shrunk, then disappeared altogether.
The PGA Championship at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course enters the final day wide open. A look at those who can carry away the Wanamaker Trophy come early Sunday evening:
Leader by 1
There are two ways to look at this: He should have a bigger lead or, at age 50, he is remarkably ahead by 1 shot with 18 holes to play. If you were looking to describe Mickelson to someone less familiar with golf, Saturday was a perfect example: It was a roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. He does not do boring golf. Don’t expect that to change on Sunday.
What he thinks: “I think that because I feel or believe that I’m playing really well and I have an opportunity to contend for a major championship on Sunday and I’m having so much fun that it’s easier to stay in the present and not get ahead of myself.”
1 shot behind
He lives for this. He has always admitted he pays far more attention during major weeks. Koepka won consecutive PGA Championships, in 2018 and 2019, and he has four major titles to his name. He won’t shy away from being paired on Sunday with Mickelson. Remember, when Koepka won the PGA in 2019, he held off Tiger Woods, ruining the feel-good story that the entire gallery wanted to see. Koepka would be glad to do it again, at a different venue, against another legend and fan favorite. Mickelson and Koepka have been paired together just once previously in a major championship, for the third round of the 2020 Masters; Koepka shot 69 and finished in a tie for seventh, while Mickelson posted 79 and tied for 55th.
What he thinks: “Yeah, it’ll be nice [to be in the last group]. At least I can see what Phil is doing and then I don’t have to turn back and look and see what he’s up to. Looking forward to it. Got a chance, and everybody will be in front of me, so I know what I’ve got to do. … If I strike it anything like I did the last three days, I’ll have a chance.”
2 shots behind
Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion who is still searching for his first win in the United States, fought a shaky swing and a pro-Mickelson crowd to remain in contention. Oosthuizen is third in the field in strokes gained tee-to-green. The key will be the driver, which caused him problems on Saturday, most notably at the 13th, where he hit one in the water. He is tied for 56th in the field in driving accuracy.
What he thinks: “That was probably the worst I’ve played in a while. With Phil hitting it beautifully [the first 10 holes] and playing great, I was all over the place. I could sense early on that I wasn’t on. I felt a move in my driver that I didn’t like, and from there, it wasn’t good. So, I was just sort of fighting to stay in it. All in all, two behind going into Sunday, I’ve got to take a lot of positives out of that with the way I was playing [on Saturday].”
3 shots behind
“I’m not that old,” he said.
The 42-year-old has two career PGA Tour victories, at the 2013 Tampa Bay Championship and the 2014 Travelers. Streelman has never finished in the top 10 in a major. So, how is he here and why does he have a chance? He has hit 31 of 42 fairways, which ties him for seventh in driving accuracy. He is ninth in strokes gained tee-to-green, 15th in strokes gained off the tee and tied for 13th in putts.
What he thinks: “You can’t make it bigger than it is. You’re just not going to perform at that level. I don’t know how it’s going to go. If it’s 65 or 85, my kids are still going to give me a hug when I’m done. What always gives me peace is I know I tried my best 72 holes each week and I’m OK with the result, and that’s kind of always given me peace in my career.”
4 shots behind
How he got here is an unbelievable story. He accidentally drank rat poison when he was 2 years old and nearly died. Bezuidenhout’s recent success should not make it a surprise he has a shot at winning his first major title. He won twice last year on the European Tour. He finished seventh earlier this year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He stands 41st in the Official World Golf Ranking, ahead of Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and others. If his putter stays hot — Bezuidenhout is first in the field in strokes gained putting — he could walk away with the Wanamaker Trophy.
What he thinks: Bezuidenhout did not comment after his round.
4 shots behind
His third round was not boring; there were plenty of circles and squares on his scorecard. He had five birdies, five bogeys and eight pars for an adventurous round of even-par 72. Putting up a bunch of birdies isn’t really a surprise. Grace is the only player in history to shoot 62 in a major, which he did at the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale. He has finished third at the PGA Championship (2015), T-4 at the U.S. Open (2015) and T-6 at The Open (2017).
What he thinks: Grace did not comment after his round.
5 shots behind
He has to be kicking himself for his tee shot at the 17th. At the par 3, DeChambeau either took an aggressive line or pushed it, but the ball went right and ended up in the water. Erase that double bogey from his card and he is a serious contender. Still, despite being 5 shots back, he’s in it. The defending U.S. Open champion, of course, leads the field in driving distance. He is second in strokes gained off the tee and seventh in proximity from the hole with his approach shots. The putter is his issue. He ranks 57th in strokes gained putting.
What he thinks: DeChambeau did not comment after his round.
5 shots behind
Somehow, he is still in this. Why is that so surprising? Well, on Saturday, he posted three double bogeys. Not too many people have three doubles in the third round of a major and still have a shot. But Woodland isn’t out of it after somehow offsetting those doubles to post even-par 72 on Saturday.
What he thinks: “Being in contention felt great. I know my game is good enough, and I think that’s a big deal. I can rely on what I did at Augusta almost two years ago now at Pebble [when he won the 2019 U.S. Open], but I think the big deal now is the confidence. Come out, play aggressive, play like I’ve been playing.”
5 shots behind
He made a late charge to get himself in the mix, playing the Ocean Course’s final eight holes in 3 under on Saturday. He is 15th in the FedEx Cup rankings and 29th in the world. Just 22 years old, Niemann won the Military Tribute at the Greenbrier last year for his lone PGA Tour victory. He stands 6 feet tall and weighs just 154 pounds, but he can launch it. He is second in the field behind DeChambeau in driving distance at 310.6 yards. For reference, DeChambeau is listed these days at 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds.
What he thinks: “Of course [I think I have a chance], I’m going to keep doing the same. It’s going to be a different wind [on Sunday], and it’s going to be different for everybody. It’s going to be a challenging day, and we are going to try to make the most of how I’m playing and hopefully have a good one.”
None did himself any favors on Saturday, with all posting 1-over 73.
What Conners thinks: “Kind of stumbled a little bit out there, but still close enough where I think I have a shot.”
Jordan Spieth and the even-par crowd
7 shots behind
Paul Lawrie once came back from 10 shots behind on the final day to win The Open, in 1999; of course, he famously got a lot of help from Jean van de Velde’s epic collapse. John Mahaffey won the 1978 PGA Championship after trailing by 7 shots through 54 holes.
Do they have a shot? Sure. Is it reasonable? No.
What Spieth thinks: “If I were at 4-under and the lead was only 7, then things could be different,” Spieth said. “But I’m not. [Looking] to the U.S. Open. I’m playing a place a love next week [at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas]. Planning on playing Memorial, as well, and then a week off and then out to San Diego.”