The PGA Championship is set up for a fantastic Sunday following a lethargic first two rounds at Bellerive. Saturday was a sun-up to sun-down march following a rain out, but we’ve got a loaded leaderboard that includes Tiger Woods. Here are 10 thoughts about the day at the PGA.
1. Brooks Koepka is a machine. You’re going to hear the neat fact all day Sunday that he’s on the verge of winning his third major, while only having just one career PGA Tour win. It’s usually, always the other way around. It is an astounding mark but indicative of the kind of talent that Koepka possesses. He’s a stud. We’ve known he’s a stud since his days tearing up the European Challenge Tour. And now he’s doing it at the biggest events.
Last 35 holes for @BKoepka:
15 birdies, 0 bogeys
21 approaches inside 20 feet
+9.8 strokes gained tee to green
— Justin Ray (@JustinRayGC) August 11, 2018
Maybe the regular week-to-week events simply don’t interest him and a talent like his needs this kind of challenge. When he had this lead, it just had an inevitability feel to it, especially when the course is so suited to his strengths. There were two hiccups on the back nine, but he’s your 54-hole leader and a heavy favorite to win his second major of the season. We’ve seen Sunday collapses from the most talented legends in the game so of course it can happen. But I’d be surprised if he didn’t win on Sunday.
2. Look, Tiger being in contention at majors again is incredible. It’s a gift, whether you hate him or love him. I’ve written many positive words about it this week and this year. The way he’s come back from that miserable start on Thursday is a reminder of one way he’s the GOAT. He does more when he doesn’t fully have it than anyone has in golf history. This Saturday was special.
Now that we’ve got all the niceties out of the way, his three-putt on the 17th was inexcusable, deflating, and were prrrrobably a sign of those back-nine nervy moments that have been an issue all season. At a critical moment, the most intense of the day, he three-putted from 20 feet. It’s not good and if he does make a run on Sunday, it’s absolutely something to watch for in the final hours.
3. It was interesting to hear Tiger say that the 28-hole day was more of a mental struggle than a physical struggle. The guy changed shirts four times on Saturday and has reportedly sweated out four pounds this week. This comes off a weekend where he looked tight at Firestone and spent Monday in ice baths dealing with inflammation. But the most mentally tough player of all time said the challenge was “mostly on the mind” as opposed to the body. That’s another reason to watch Sunday’s finish if he does get back in the pressurized situation of a late Sunday run at a 15th major.
4. Verne Lundquist had a rough day, but because it’s Uncle Verne, you took it all as part of the charm of the telecast. He misstated Brooks Koepka’s first name (Bruce) and then mispronounced his last name (Koopka). But the highlight of his troubles came when he dramatically cue’d up a hole-in-one by calling Englishman Matt Wallace, “Mike.” It’s an acceptable enough mistake, but the way he set it all up with such pomp made the moment.
5. That hole-in-one is probably the consensus shot of the day, but the one I loved most was a ridiculous recovery shot from Justin Thomas. There just aren’t a lot of challenging or demanding shots that lead to dramatic plays at Bellerive, but Thomas found a spot where he could pull off this shot shape.
Thomas did not have a lot go right on Saturday, but he’s there at 8-under and we know he’s capable of posting some mid-to-low 60s number to go back-to-back at the PGA.
6. The most disappointing round came from Dustin Johnson. With birdies available on almost every hole, and all these big bombers throwing darts into flags with scoring clubs, the world No. 1 was one of the few players to go the wrong way. There were only seven players out of the 80 that made the cut that posted a higher number than DJ’s 2-over 72. I know he’s won three times but another major-less summer feels like a lost year for the No. 1 player in the game. Winning majors is hard, buttttt …
For a man as prodigiously talented as he is and to have achieved the things he has, one major win in 38 starts is a paltry return for DJ.
— Michael McEwan (@MMcEwanbunkered) August 11, 2018
7. When I saw Adam Scott was part of the featured groups coverage on Friday, my initial response was just “ugh.” He seems like such a throw-in to those featured groups full of younger stars these days, but that’s not fair.
Scott’s swing is the prototype, the one every pro wants and is considered the best in the game. He’s got a Masters, a Players, and has been No. 1 in the world. Yet he feels like an afterthought, especially this season and in these last few years when so many younger, ascendant talents have taken over at the majors. But there he was on Saturday, posting the low-round of the day, a 65 that edged out a group of six that shot 66. I don’t think it’s going to happen on Sunday, but Scott adding a second major would solidify his Hall Of Fame credentials.
8. I think we tend to overlook Rickie Fowler’s Players Championship finish when discussing how disappointing his career resume may be relative to the public profile. That was an amazing accomplishment and as good a close as you will see at a big tournament, including majors. But if he doesn’t win again this week, no one is going to think about The Players from a few years ago. They’re going to say again that he shot 65-67 and then didn’t get it done on the weekend.
There may be an asterisk on this disappointment, given that he has an oblique injury. Still … the 1-under third round was underwhelming and on such a loaded leaderboard, it may have cost him the championship. When he was asked what the game plan was for the final round, he said, “Play better than I did today, that’s for sure.” So he knows he wasn’t that good.
Rickie said he was going to approach this week conservatively. I watched him do that last year at Quail Hollow. This isn’t exactly the championship or the venue to do that, so we’ll see if he switches it up on Sunday.
9. Part of the joy of watching of Jon Rahm, and what can be his undoing, is that he goes Hulk Smash when things may not go smoothly or a putt just misses the cup. It’s fantastic to watch. It’s tremendous content. But it probably doesn’t help his chances at winning a major, so it was revealing to hear him tell Golf Channel that he’s trying to become an “adult.”
“I think the one thing that’s been a big difference and a surprise to a lot of people has been my mental game,” he told Todd Lewis. “I’ve been working really hard the last few weeks to stop complaining. Allow myself to get mad, but complain less. Become an adult, or act like an adult would.”
I think you should never try to become an adult. Like Scott, Rahm was also just an afterthought on Saturday and got hardly any TV coverage until his last three holes thanks to Tiger. But he made no bogeys and is in a nice T3 spot, the closest he’s come at a major in his instantly successful career.
10. The golf course might not be great. It is definitely not great. But Saturday was fun. We got darts into pins, lots of loud noises, plenty of birdies, and a good TV product. That doesn’t redeem the course’s deficiencies, but it can be a great PGA Championship. The leaderboard is loaded and the crowds, by all accounts, were incredible. It’s packed and the players were giving positive reviews about the galleries. That enhances to the championship. This looks awesome and something we don’t see every week in this sport.
Here’s your leaderboard heading into the final 18 holes of men’s major golf this year:
2018 PGA Championship leaderboard
|Place||Player||Score||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3|
|Place||Player||Score||Round 1||Round 2||Round 3|
|T36||Rafael Cabrera Bello||-3||70||68||69|
|T45||Ted Potter Jr.||-2||74||66||68|
|T57||Byeong Hun An||-1||70||70||69|
|76||Charles Howell III||2||74||66||72|