PITTSFORD — On the third day, Oak Hill got its revenge.
After two days of scores that looked like they belonged in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the world’s best players were met with a test more befitting of the season’s final major Saturday in the 95th PGA Championship.
Bright sunshine and a stiff breeze worked wonders on drying out the fabled East Course. The deep rough far off missed fairways was as penal as ever. The pressure of a major championship, too, began to show itself.
Steely veteran Jim Furyk navigated those conditions well enough on Moving Day to take a one-shot lead into today’s final round (11 a.m., TNT; 2 p.m., Ch. 4). But there are plenty of the world’s best in pursuit.
Furyk’s round of 2-under 68 got him to 9-under 201 for the tournament. That’s one shot better than Jason Dufner, who carded a 1-over 71 Saturday to drop to 8-under for the tournament. They will go off in the final pairing at 2:55 p.m.
Another four players are within four shots of Furyk’s lead.
“There’s a lot of guys that have a chance to win this tomorrow,” said Dufner, who managed to sneak a 7-foot par putt on the 18th hole in the back door of the cup to stay within one shot of Furyk’s lead. “I just think patience is of the utmost importance on a Sunday in a major. You’re never really out of it, even if you make a bogey or two in a row. You can always come back and have a chance to win that thing on the back nine.”
Perseverance was a common trait Saturday among the leaders. Dufner started the round with a two-shot lead and watched it grow to three by the time he reached the par-5 fourth hole. A missed 6-foot birdie putt there meant he blew an opportunity to open a four-shot advantage.
Dufner then double bogeyed the par-4 fifth hole when his tee shot hit some trees and bounced into a creek. The rest of the field was officially on notice: It’s anyone’s tournament.
“Things could have gone really south there,” Dufner said. “But I hung in there. It was a tough day. … Through the course of 72 holes, things like that happen at majors. You’re going to hit poor shots. You’re going to get bad breaks. You’ve just got to move past it.”
Furyk likewise steadied himself after a rough start that included bogeys on the second and third holes.
“I really hit some loose shots in those first three holes,” he said.
A birdie on No. 4 stopped the bleeding, and from there Furyk made four more birdies against just one bogey. If the 43-year-old is feeling the pressure, he’s done a good job of hiding it.
“I’ve been relaxed this week and felt very calm out there, and even when I haven’t hit good shots, I really haven’t let it bother me at all,” he said. “That’s why on a bad start today, I was able to come back and turn it into a good round.”
Furyk closed his round on the brutally difficult par-4 17th and 18th holes by going birdie-par. He hit a hybrid that he called his best of the day from 245 yards to 20 feet on the 17th, then sank the birdie putt. On 18, he found the second cut of rough off the tee with a 3-wood, and was forced to chip out to the fairway with a wedge.
His third shot spun back past the flag off the green onto the fringe, but he was able to make the putt coming back to cap off his round.
“It was nice. I don’t think it would have ruined my day had it not gone in, but it was definitely the icing on the cake,” he said.
Furyk’s biggest concern in his post-round interview was finishing up so he could go watch his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers play their preseason game. Fitting, in a way, since Furyk’s game can best be describe as blue-collar, much like the football team.
“I play the game maybe what looks a little unorthodox to most people, but I guess I consider myself a tough player and I consider myself someone that really believes in himself,” he said. “And in order to make it at this level or be successful for 20 years on the PGA Tour, you’d better believe in yourself, because there’s going to be some times where, you know, you feel lonely and you feel like you’re the only one out there.”
Furyk is chasing his second major title to go with his 2003 U.S. Open. Those closest to him are after their first.
Dufner came close in 2011, when he lost in a playoff to Keegan Bradley in Atlanta.
“I was young, new to doing the majors,” he said. “Hopefully the experience I’ve had since then will pull me through and give me a chance to win tomorrow.”
The pressure of the moment appeared evident on the 18th tee Saturday for Dufner. After a wayward drive into the rough, he threw his driver down in disgust.
“I don’t think there is a guy out here when you are playing in these major championships that doesn’t feel the pressure. You want to play well. There is a lot at stake to play well,” he said. “I’m not trying to have a top-five or top-10 out here. I’m trying to win this thing.”
The penultimate group today will be an all-Swedish pairing between Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt.
Stenson has finished runner-up in his last two starts, including at the Open Championship to Phil Mickelson, and he and Blixt carry the additional weight of trying to become the first male player from their country to win a major.
“Whether it be the first Swede – at this point it would be the same as winning my first major championship,” he said. “But yeah, it would be lovely. But we’re still a long ways from that.”
Just two seasons ago, Stenson wasn’t in the field for the PGA Championship – he was playing in his club championship. He had plummeted down the world rankings, ending that year No. 207.
“Everybody disappears for a little while and comes back. It’s good to be back playing good golf at these big events,” he said. “Golf is definitely a whole lot more fun than it was, you know, back in 2011. It’s more fun to show up at the races with a good gear box and a good set of tires.”
Stenson made three birdies and two bogeys Saturday in a round of 1-under 69 that has him at 7-under 203 through three rounds.
“Very happy with my performance shooting under par today. It was tough conditions out there. The breeze was swirling around,” Stenson said. “There was more wind than we played earlier in the week. … I thought I managed my way around nicely.”
Stenson is one shot up on Blixt, who moved from 15th at the start of the day up to fourth after a 4-under 66.
Playing in the last group with Dufner, Masters champion Adam Scott buried a long birdie putt on the first hole, but then like Furyk made bogey at the second and third.
Scott grinded his way around the course until reaching the 318-yard par-4 14th hole, which he reached with his drive. A two-putt birdie got him to 7-under and within two of the lead, but he dropped two shots with a double bogey on the par-4 16th.
“I bit off more than I could chew at 16 and made a bad mental error,” he said. “It wasn’t really going my way out there with much today. I was grinding all day to be honest.”
Scott is at 5-under 205, four shots back of Furyk. It’s a position he’s comfortable with.
“I don’t think there is any pressure on me going into tomorrow at all,” he said. “It’s a different story if you are leading or close to it.”