PITTSFORD, N.Y. – At 3:35 p.m., Jason Dufner held a three-shot lead over Adam Scott and Matt Kuchar at the PGA Championship. But Oak Hill, a course that David Feherty on Friday called, “an old lady who’s lost her teeth,” found her fangs on Saturday afternoon.
At 4:23 p.m., after Dufner had carded a double-bogey six on the fifth hole, his lead was down to one and the tournament was up for grabs.
He’d end the round one shot back of 54-hole leader Jim Furyk.
Here are 5 Things to Know after Saturday’s round in Rochester:
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1. IN THE GROOVE: “It was good to feel the sort of rush again,” said Rory McIlroy after he shot 67 on Saturday. For the curly-headed Ulsterman it was his best round in a major since his final-round 66 on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in last year’s PGA Championship.
It’s been a tough year for McIlroy, especially when you consider that last year as he walked off the 18th green of the Ocean Course at Kiawah, many golf scribes were proclaiming that it was dawn of the Rory McIlroy Era. He was No. 1 in the world, had just won his second major, and backed up his win with victories at the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship a few weeks later.
Until this week, McIlroy hasn’t even sniffed contention in a major. He’s shot 79, twice, and his best position at the end of any round had been T-12.
Many people blamed McIlroy’s spotty play on his decision to switch to new clubs and a new golf ball, but McIlroy said there was more to it than that.
“First and foremost, I just haven’t been swinging it the best this year,” he said Wednesday. “I got into a couple bad habits with my golf swing, and it’s just taken my a little bit longer to get out of them.”
At 3 under, McIlroy is going to need some help from the leaders if he’s going to successfully defend his title, but he’s not giving up.
“Every time I’m in [this] position I just think back to Quail Hollow a few years ago and what I did on the weekend there,” he said. McIlroy shot a final-round 62 in 2010 to win the Quail hollow Championship by three shots over Phil Mickelson. “It gives me a bit of confidence knowing that I’ve been in that position before and I’ve been able to win.”
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2. SWEDE SATURDAY: It feels like ancient history, but Henrik Stenson’s dominating win at TPC Sawgrass was just four years ago. Fans can be forgiven if Stenson’s prolonged slump made them forget that he once reached as high as No. 4 in the world rankings. In fact, two years ago while Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner were dueling down the stretch at the Atlanta Athletic Club, Stenson was at home competing in his club championship in Barseback, Sweden. He says he finished second.
Today, Stenson, who shot 69 on Saturday, may arguably be the hottest golfer on the planet.
“Yeah, golf is a whole lot more fun than it was, you know, back in 2011,” he said.
Coming into the PGA Championship, Stenson tied for 10th at the BMW International Open in July, then tied for third at the Scottish Open, and was a runner-up at both the Open Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Stenson said he was aware that fellow Swede Jonas Blixt had a hot round going on Saturday and he knows what if either can win, it would make history.
“No Swede has ever won a major before,” Stenson said. “We’re definitely increasing the chances with having two guys up there rather than one or none. So we’re going to go out there and try our best.”
According to Blixt, trying his best means taking dead aim.
“When I play well, I play aggressively,” Blixt said. “I get a lot of criticism for that sometimes. If I don’t play aggressive then I wouldn’t be standing here. So I’m going to go out there tomorrow and do my best and play aggressive and try to make as many birdies as I can.”
That strategy has worked for the Swede before. Blixt has two wins on the PGA Tour in his last 23 starts.
“You know, it’s a golf tournament, and I know it’s a major and it’s huge and it’s one of my goals to win one but if I start thinking about that stuff I can probably pack my bags and go home tonight,” he said.
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3. PEACEFUL FURYK PERFORMS BETTER: After shooting 68 on Saturday, Jim Furyk has the 54-hole lead at a major championship for the third time.
Furyk is a blue-collar guy from the Steel City with a work ethic that he credits to his parents, and the Rochester, N.Y., fans identify with him.
To give himself a better chance to win, Furyk recently decided to seek the advice of a sports psychologist, so he began working with Dr. Bob Rotella last month.
According to Rotella, the author of Golf is Not a Game of Perfect and Putting Out of Your Mind, Furyk started to think about his putting for the first time in his career last season, and the harder he worked to improve, the more he got confused.
Rotella now reports that Furyk has developed a good routine that could help him see better results.
That’s good, because in the final round of the last four PGA Championships, Furyk’s average score is far from intimidating: 75.5.
“I’ve been relaxed this week and felt very calm out there,” Furyk said on Saturday evening. “Even when I haven’t hit good shots, I haven’t let it bother me at all, and that’s why on a bad start today, I was able to come back and turn it into a good round.”
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4. FRUSTRATIONS CONTINUE: Baffled. Befuddled. Bewildered. Beguiled. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, the two heavy favorites at the start of this week’s PGA Championship, have not been able to figure out Oak Hill.
“I didn’t start out very good and I didn’t finish very good,” Woods said after shooting a 73 that left him tied for 48th. “The middle part I was grinding just to kind of hang in there around par.”
This comes after a post-round range session Friday evening with Woods’ swing coach, Sean Foley.
When asked how his week in Rochester has felt, Woods said, “Not joyous, that’s for sure. It’s just one of those weeks where I didn’t quite hit it well enough and didn’t make enough putts.”
Regardless of how far behind the leaders he may be going into the last round, Tiger almost always talks about still having some chance to win, still having a shot. Not Saturday.
“That’s golf,” he said. “We don’t play well every week.”
Meanwhile, Mickelson, who had his own emergency range session with his swing coach, Butch Harmon on Thursday evening after shooting 71, decided he needed to call in the big guns. Lefty put his driver to the bag on Saturday and took out his 64-degree wedge so he could challenge Oak Hill more aggressively, but the strategy didn’t work at the 2005 PGA Championship winner shot 78.
Mickelson left Oak Hill without talking to the media, but couldn’t resist signing a few autographs for fans near the clubhouse.
The only good news for Mickelson is that since he’s teeing off at 8:35 Sunday morning with Stephen Gallacher, he should easily be able to hop on his plane and be home in California for dinner.
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5. BURSTING AT THE SEAMS: Regardless of which contender hoists the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening, it’s highly likely that golf scribes will have a great story to tell:
• Jim Furyk (9 under): A win would make amends for a sub-par performance at last year’s Ryder Cup and help to heal the wounds that were self-inflicted at the Olympic Club, Oakmont and Winged Foot.
• Jason Dufner (8 under): For the Hogan-loving man from Alabama, a win at Oak Hill would have special meaning. It’s been reported that Dufner asked his wife, Amanda, to collect acorns from the course so they can plant them in their backyard. A win would also help to heal the pain of losing the 2011 PGA Championship in playoff to Keegan Bradley.
• Henrik Stenson (7 under) and Jonas Blixt (6 under): No male Swedish player has ever won a major championship.
• Steve Stricker (5 under): Fifteen years ago, at the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club, Stricker had his best chance to win a major. He lost to Vijay Singh. He subsequently went into a slump, but then won the Comeback Player of the Year award. Twice.
• Adam Scott (5 under) A win would bring the Aussie his second major title of the season and probably the Player of the Year award.
• Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy (3 under): Long shots to be sure, but if Westwood can go low he’d win his first career major. If McIlroy comes back to win from six shots back, the previous eight months of inconsistent golf will be forgiven.
— Reporting by Alex Miceli and Jeff Rude