Watson closes in on PGA Championship lead before late fade

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — It’s been a long time since Bubba Watson contended for the PGA Championship. And he was right there for a while on Saturday.

An up-and-down third round at blustery Southern Hills put Watson tantalizingly close to the lead until he faded late with some trouble finding fairways and greens over the back nine. A putter that was razor sharp in a round of 63 on Saturday blunted down the back stretch.

Still, a 3-over 73 was good enough to keep the 43-year-old within sight of the youth movement leading the championship heading into Sunday’s final round. But he could have literally been within touching distance on the first tee if not for a swing that got a little too loose in the late afternoon.

He’ll start the final round tied for seventh, seven strokes behind 27-year-old rookie leader Mito Pereira.

“Yesterday I made them all and today I missed them on the back nine,” Watson said of a putting stroke that was off by inches Saturday. “Wish they would have went in. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I was wishing them instead of stroking them.”

The lefty with the buttoned up collar hasn’t won a major since the 2014 Masters or any tournament since 2018, and the galleries tried to push him along Saturday. His record at the PGA has been dismal since losing a playoff at Whistling Straits in 2010. His best finish over the last 12 years has been a tie for 21st, and he missed the cut four times.

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Watson can still lean into career experience on Sunday when the pressure starts to build. His 12 career PGA Tour wins, including two Masters, towers over anything the six players in front of him have done. Among them, the top six have two PGA Tour wins and eight in Europe.

“I have confidence that I’ve done it before, but these guys are so good,” Watson said. “One ball bounces your way, hits a tree, bounces into the fairway, you make a chip shot, you hole it from the bunker; it’s really not about somebody’s won more than you. It’s just the breaks at the right time.”

The pressure seemed to be bearing down on Pereira when he had a stretch of four bogeys in five holes. That allowed Watson to pull within one stroke of the lead. Yet he couldn’t close that last gap.

Pereira settled and finished with a flurry. Watson bogeyed the 10th and dropped three more strokes over the final four holes, sending him on a steady slide down from the top of the leaderboard.

Watson jumped up into the mix with that stunning 63 on Friday that tied the lowest score in PGA Championship history. The previous two times that happened at Southern Hills, by Raymond Floyd in 1982 and Tiger Woods in 2007, they went on to the lift the Wanamaker Trophy.

That big silver cup would look good next to a pair of green jackets.

“Just because I shoot 63 doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” Watson said.

The final hole of the front side was an odd adventure.

Woods had driven into the fairway bunker 100 yards short of the green when his next shot buried into the lip, which rose sharply in front of him. Because Woods was no longer in the bunker, he was allowed a free drop within a club length of the spot, giving him a good lie in the fairway. He still missed the green from there.

10:30 a.m.

Tiger Woods put two shots in the water over his first six holes during the third round of the PGA Championship, including one on the par-3 sixth Saturday that eventually resulted in a triple bogey.

The trouble began at the par-4 second, when Woods found the meandering stream off the tee but managed to make bogey.

Four holes later, he hit another tee shot into the water at the 218-yard sixth and everything unraveled. He played from the drop area and hit into the rough left of the green, then left his pitch short of the putting surface. Woods finally chipped to within 2 feet and made the putt for a six that left him 7 over for the championship.

Woods did not have a penalty shot over his first two rounds at Southern Hills.

9:30 a.m.

Tiger Woods has picked up where he left off at the PGA Championship, but only briefly.

Woods one-putted five of his last six holes at the end of the second round, including a pair of 15-foot par putts, that allowed him to rally to make the cut at Southern Hills.

He began the third round by holing a 15-foot par putt. But on the second hole, Woods put his tee shot into the meandering stream. It was his first penalty shot of the week. He wound up with a bogey and was 4 over for the tournament. A conventional par on No. 3 left him 1 over for the round.

Temperatures have yet to top 60 degrees, and Louis Oosthuizen arrived wearing a full face scarf to cope with the chill.

Of the early starters, Webb Simpson is 2 under through four holes, but hardly making up much ground.

8 a.m.

Out with the wind, in with the rain at the PGA Championship on Saturday.

Southern Hills had about a half-inch of rain in the early morning hours, along with a lightning show that delayed the start of the third round by some 30 minutes. That left the course a little softer as it was starting to get firm.

Will Zalatoris has a one-shot lead and won’t tee off until early afternoon. On deck is Tiger Woods, who showed great fight in his finish for a 69 to make the cut by one.

Woods was 12 shots behind.