TULSA, Okla. (AP) — No one will ever confuse Southern Hills for the seaside links of the British Open, not by the looks of the tree-lined course and certainly not with the shots required.
The chatter after two days of the PGA Championship?
The Open is renowned for its fickle weather and often requires a small measure of luck being on the right side of the draw. Such was the case the last two days at Southern Hills, and one only has to look at the leaderboard to realize that.
Or just listen.
“We lucked out with the draw for sure,” said Will Zalatoris, whose bogey-free round of 5-under 65 gave him a one-shot lead and at 131, the lowest 36-hole score posted in the eight majors held at Southern Hills.
“When that wind died down, you just felt like you had a chance to score,” said Bubba Watson. And score he did. Even after missing a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, he tied the PGA Championship record with a 63.
It was the 18th round of 63 in the PGA and the third at Southern Hills, joining Tiger Woods in the second round of the 2007 PGA and Raymond Floyd in first round of the 1982 PGA. They both had the lead after the record scorer. Watson was four shots behind.
Mito Pereira might have joined him if not for missing a 7-foot putt on his final hole for a 64, leaving him one shot behind Zalatoris and in the final group Saturday in the PGA Championship debut for the 27-year-old from Chile.
Of the 22 players under par going into the third round, 17 faced the least amount of wind by playing Thursday morning and Friday afternoon.
“It was quite strange, obviously,” Tyrrell Hatton said. “Our front nine today was still tough, it was gusty, and then we sit on the 10th tee and it just dropped out of nowhere. So yeah, had a nice run there.”
He made four straight birdies and wound up with a 68, leaving him seven shots behind.
Justin Thomas is leading the other side of the draw. He had a 67 in two rounds of windy, tough conditions and was three shots behind.
There has been worse cases of disparity in scores, usually across the Atlantic. Thomas is proud of how he played. Even as he lounged on his couch Friday afternoon, when the trees stopped swaying and the flags stopped whipping, there was no reason for concern.
Tiger Woods was happy to still be playing. He was looking good when he birdied the 10th hole to get to 3 over, one shot below the cut line. And then he went from the high grass framing a stream to a bunker on the other side of the green to a double bogey.
Now one shot over the line, Woods found another bunker and it was looking like his time would be short in Tulsa. But then he showed remarkable fight on a battered right leg, holing a pair of 15-foot par putts and making two birdies for a 69 to make the cut in his second straight major since his car crash 15 months ago.
“You can’t win the tournament if you miss the cut,” Woods said. “There’s a reason why you fight hard and you’re able to give yourself a chance on the weekend. You just never know when you might get hot.”
Not everyone took advantage of good timing.
Rory McIlroy knows all about the luck of the draw. He opened with a 63 at St. Andrews in 2010, only to catch the wind — there is Oklahoma wind and there is St. Andrews wind — and shot 80 to fall out of contention. He also caught the good side of the draw at Royal Liverpool in 2014 when he won the claret jug.
He was set up for success again at Southern Hills, opening with a 65 and playing most of the second round in good weather. He just didn’t have the game to match. McIlroy made only one birdie, and not until the 13th hole, and shot 71. He was five behind going into the weekend.
“There’s a long way to go, a lot of golf left,” McIlroy said. “We’re going to see a completely different golf course the next two days because of the wind direction. It’s going to play completely differently. And that makes it very interesting.”
Indeed, the forecast was for temperatures in the lower 60s and most likely some rain. No one should be able to protest because now the playing field should be level.
And there’s a long way to go.
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