5 Things: Furyk out front as few contend at PGA

Jim Furyk during the third round of the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

Jim Furyk during the third round of the 2013 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

As Jason Dufner gave way to Jim Furyk during Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, a few things became obvious. The course has plenty of gumption when it dries out and gets some wind. Tiger Woods will not win. Reigning major champs have their work cut out for them Sunday. And semi-retirement looks good on Steve Stricker.

Here are 5 Things to Know from Saturday at the season’s final major.

• • •

1. FURYK ANSWERS OAK HILL’S CALL: Oak Hill finally had enough elements for a strong test Saturday in the PGA Championship, and Jim Furyk was up for the fight.

Grinding to the end in swirling wind that cast doubt on so many shots, Furyk closed with two big putts — one for birdie to regain the lead, one for par to keep it — that gave him a 2-under 68 and a one-shot lead over Jason Dufner going into the final round.

Coming off an 18-foot birdie putt on the 17th, Furyk hit his 3-wood so badly on the 472-yard closing hole that he couldn’t have reached the green even if he had been in the fairway. He hit a solid shot over the bunkers and back into the fairway, watched his third shot spin off the green onto the fringe, and he gave an emphatic fist pump when his 15-foot par putt curled in the left side of the cup for par.

“Obviously, I made a bad swing,” Furyk said. “This week, I haven’t let too much bother me. It was a nice way to finish the day.”

Sunday doesn’t figure to be any easier — not the course, and not with the guys chasing him.

Dufner thought he had missed another putt on the 18th hole until gravity pulled the ball into the side of the cup for a par that gave him a 71. Sure, it was eight shots worse than his record-tying 63 on a soft course Friday, but at least he got into the final group at the PGA Championship for the second time in three years.

Only five players remain within five shots of Furyk’s lead: Dufner, Jonas Blixt, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson and Steve Stricker. Whether more join the chase depends on Furyk, who was at 9-under 201 – and wasn’t overly excited when he opened this championship with a 65 to share the lead with Scott, yet he has kept his eyes in front of him since then. He wasn’t even sure what the leaderboard looked like, except that his name was at the top.

“I’m comfortable with where I’m at,” Furyk said. “There’s a crowded leaderboard at the top, and instead of really viewing it as who is leading and who is not, I’m really viewing it as I need to go out there tomorrow and put together a good, solid round of golf. Fire a good number and hope it stacks up well.”

No one looked terribly comfortable at the start, not with the swirling wind and water hazard that winds its way along the front nine. And when Dufner ended his string of pars by driving into the creek on No. 5 for double bogey, it appeared that this tournament was wide open. The leaders steadied themselves, leaving the Sunday still up for grabs but likely among fewer players.

Furyk spoke earlier in the week about the sting of losing in the big events, and he’s had a share of them, such as his runner-up finish in the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont near where he grew up, and last year at Olympic Club when he lost the lead on the 70th hole by snap-hooking his tee shot on a par 5.

• • •

2. SCOTT EYES LATE SURGE: The surprise man of the round was Masters champion Adam Scott, who was poised to seize control at any moment.

Scott blasted a driver on the uphill, 318-yard 14th hole that was so pure he snatched his tee from the ground as the ball was still rising. It stopped 25 feet below the cup, and he had an eagle putt to tie for the lead. The Australian two-putted for birdie, and two holes later fell back with a double bogey on the 16th. Scott escaped further damage with a 15-foot par save on the 17th and managed a 72. He was four shots behind, along with Steve Stricker, who had a 70.

Scott knows as well as anyone how unpredictable a final round can be.

He was four shots up with four holes to play at the British Open last year and watched Ernie Els win the claret jug. At Muirfield last month, Mickelson came from five shots behind on the final day and won by three.

“I would like to be leading,” Scott said. “Four back is well within reach. Anything can happen in a major. We just saw the pin spots get tough today, and scoring in the final groups was very difficult. With so much danger around, it’s hard to be completely free where major pressure is on the line. Tomorrow is going to be similar.”

• • •

3. OTHER REIGNING MAJOR CHAMPS WELL BACK: Still with an outside chance was Rory McIlroy, who came to life with three birdies over his last six holes for a 67. McIlroy, trying to join Tiger Woods and Padraig Harrington as the only repeat winners of the PGA in the stroke-play era, knocked in a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th and then showed more emotion than he has all year when he chipped in for birdie on the 18th.

“It was good to feel the sort of rush again,” McIlroy said, at 207 and still six shots behind.

McIlroy’s chip-in for birdie on the final hole was reminiscent of another great shot on the 18th at Oak Hill. Corey Pavin chipped in for birdie in the final fourballs match Saturday afternoon in the 1995 Ryder Cup that gave him and Loren Roberts a 1-up win over Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer. More importantly, it gave the Americans a 9-7 lead going into Sunday singles.

McIlroy is a great student of golf history, though that’s one Ryder Cup highlight the 24-year-old from Northern Ireland has never seen. Someone recommended he should watch it, and McIlroy turned and smiled.

“Who won that Ryder Cup, anyway?” he said.

Europe won the singles session and rallied to win the Ryder Cup.

British Open champion Phil Mickelson sprayed the ball all over Oak Hill on his way to a 78, matching his highest score ever in the PGA Championship.

U.S. Open champion Justin Rose fell apart early with back-to-back double bogeys that sent him to a 42. He wound up with a 77. Scott opened with a 20-foot birdie putt, only to follow with back-to-back bogeys.

• • •

4. TIGER IN SHADOWS: Tiger Woods walked off the 18th hole and past Dufner and Scott, who stood on the putting green still waiting to tee off as the last group of the PGA Championship’s third round.

Woods is usually the one starting his day well into the afternoon on the weekend at a major. But he keeps heading the wrong direction from the leaders at Oak Hill.

The world’s No. 1 golfer shot a 3-over 73 on Saturday, leaving him at 4 over for the tournament. He was tied for 48th, 13 strokes behind leader Jim Furyk.

Woods scuffled from his very first swing. He missed the fairway on No. 1, teeing off just after 11 a.m., almost four hours before Dufner and Scott. He bogeyed that hole and had another at the third.

Even when he straightened out his tee shots for a bit, Woods’ putting failed him. He didn’t make a birdie until this 11th hole, and that would be his only one of the day.

His swing went awry again late in the round, dooming him to bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17.

“I didn’t start off very good, and I didn’t finish very good,” Woods said.

“In the middle part,” he added, “I was grinding just to kind of hang in there around par.”

So the 14-time major champ must wait until April to resume his now more than 5-year-old pursuit of No. 15.

Not that Woods would ever concede the chase is getting to him. Asked if he’s pressing, he deadpanned, “Yeah, at times when I’m underneath the trees and I’m in bunkers and trying to get up-and-down.”

He had plenty of experience with both of those predicaments Saturday. Woods hit 5 of 14 fairways and needed 32 putts.

After Friday’s round, he squeezed in some time on the practice range with coach Sean Foley. Didn’t seem to help.

“I just haven’t got my takeaway right; it’s off,” Woods said. “Consequently the whole patterning is off. Just one of those weeks where it’s just a fraction off, and a fraction off on a setup like this, it’s going to cost me.”

Especially when his putting wasn’t rescuing him.

“When I do it right, I hit some sweet shots. And when I do it wrong, I’m struggling,” Woods said. “On top of that, today for some reason I kept blocking every putt. I burned a few edges out there.”

On the par-4 seventh, Woods hit his second shot to within about 10 feet, but his birdie try lipped out, and he could only look away in disgust. He briefly appeared to be building some momentum after that birdie on No. 11, but his birdie putt on the 12th from about 5 feet slid by the right side of the hole.

Other than sharing a few laughs with playing partner Keegan Bradley as they walked the course, Woods was rarely demonstrative Saturday, after shots good or bad. Despite tying for 39th the last time the PGA was at Oak Hill a decade ago, Woods calls the course “fantastic.”

“Unfortunately I just haven’t put it together at the right time,” he said.

He hasn’t done that at a major in more than five years.

• • •

5. STRICKER HANGS IN THERE: Fifteen years after he first contended for a major, Steve Stricker has another chance in semi-retirement.

This will require quite a bit more work.

“I’m in a decent spot,” Stricker said after an even-par 70 left him four shots behind Jim Furyk. “I’ve got a chance. That’s all I can ask for, I guess.”

Stricker has played sparingly this year, even skipping the British Open as he tries to spend more time with his wife and two children. He’s still among the top players in the game, and the most dangerous on the greens.

“There’s a lot of great players up there on top,” he said. “Furyk is obviously playing well. Adam Scott is up there. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Just have to be patient and go out there and hopefully get off to a good start and get righ in the mix real early.”

Stricker shared the 54-hole lead at Sahalee in the 1998 PGA Championship and was runner-up by two shots.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: Lee Westwood had a 68 that put him at 3-under 207 for the tournament, and when he walked off the course, he thought he might be better off than he was; remember, Mickelson was five shots behind Westwood going into the last round at the British Open and won by three. “So anything is possible on the Sunday of a major,” he said. . . . Tiger Woods has shot in the 60s just once in 15 rounds in the majors this year. In seven rounds at Oak Hill in his career, he has yet to break par. . . . In five previous majors, only one player has posted all four rounds in the 60s at Oak Hill — Lee Trevino in the 1968 U.S. Open. Going into the final round, only two players have that chance — Jim Furyk and Henrik Stenson. Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker join them as the only players to not shoot over par this week. . . . U.S. Open champion Justin Rose had two double bogeys and shot 42 on the front nine on his way to a 77. Matt Kuchar, a two-time winner this year, started the day two shots behind and shot 76. . . . Brooks Koepka started the year with no status on any tour. He won three times on the Challenge Tour to earn a European Tour card, and now plays the final round of the final major of the season with Tiger Woods.

– Doug Ferguson and Rachel Cohen, Associated Press

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