Koepka recovered from three straight bogeys to recover a 69 and stay within two strokes of a more congested standings than any congested highway in San Francisco. At stake is a chance to become only the seventh player to win the same major tournament three times in a row. He looked at the cast of suitors and focused on the guy at the top.
“I like my chances,” Koepka said. “When I held this position before, I capitalized. He only won one. I play well. I don’t know, we’ll see.
As he walked away from the microphone, Koepka smiled and said to Jason Day, “What about that shade?” They laugh.
Too bad it’s not a two-party show.
The final round at Harding Park is set to be wide open, just as it was such a wild Saturday that eight players had at least a share in the third round.
Johnson lost his distance book and again found his way through a huge crowd of suitors. He double bogeyed the ninth hole and still bounced back with a 31 on the tough and windy back nine.
He needed those eight birdies on a day of low scores, long putts and endless possibilities.
One possibility is that Koepka would hoist the Wanamaker Trophy for the third year in a row, which has not happened since Walter Hagen won four in a row in the 1920s when it was a match play. The last player to win three consecutive major wins was Peter Thomson at the British Open in 1956.
Koepka was two strokes behind on a board that has only two great champions among the top six.
Scottie Scheffler, the PGA Tour of Texas rookie, birdied three in a row to miss a normal 6-foot putt on the last hole. He still shot a 65 and was one shot behind, in the final group at his first PGA Championship. Cameron Champ, who has the strongest swing on tour, shot 67 and joined Scheffler one shot behind.
Johnson was 9 under 201 as he tried to win his second major title. Despite all the chances he had, this is only the second time he has led the final round. The other was on the coast at Pebble Beach, his first chance to win a major. He had a three-shot lead at the 2010 US Open and shot 82.
Now he’s more seasoned with both good (21 touring wins) and bad (five close calls in the majors) experiences.
“I’m going to have to play golf if I want to win. It’s simple, ”Johnson said. “I have to hit a lot of fairways and a lot of greens. If I can do this tomorrow, I’ll have a good chance of getting off. … I’m just going to have to do what I did today. Just do it. ”
Among the cast of contenders are major champions like Koepka, Jason Day, and Justin Rose, and cool faces like Scheffler, Champ and Collin Morikawa. There was also Bryson DeChambeau, thanks to a 95-foot birdie putt on his last hole. It turns out he can hit long putts too.
Missing all of that action Tiger Woods, who didn’t birdie before the 16th hole and is out of the mix for the fourth consecutive major since his emotional Masters win last year.
About ten players were separated by three strokes.
Li Haotong, the first Chinese player to lead after a turn in a major, was leading through 12 holes until his tee shot did not come down from a tree. He did a double bogey, dropped two more shots and completed four headshots.
Johnson also didn’t have smooth navigation, especially when he couldn’t find his yard book.
He thinks he slipped into the bottom of the golf bag, and he didn’t want to throw his 14 clubs on the ground to find it. Austin Johnson, his brother and caddy, had a spare footage book.
Johnson shot 65 even with a double bogey on the ninth hole. Mistakes like that could cost more on Sunday with so many players in the mix. Even those who struggled – Rose, Daniel Berger, Tommy Fleetwood all settled for 70s – are only three shots behind.
The lack of atmosphere adds to the drama, it is the first big one without spectators. Paul Casey said he still doesn’t get the nerves about the understaffing. Maybe it helps young players to hunt for the first time. It could also make it difficult for players to know what’s going on around them without any cheering.
Then again, Johnson won the 2016 US Open at Oakmont without knowing the score as the USGA struggled to decide whether to be penalized for a potential rule violation earlier in the round. He must have played the last seven holes without knowing his score.
This is just one example of what Johnson went through in the majors. There was a penalty that knocked him out of the 2010 PGA Playoffs at Whistling Straits for anchoring his club in the sand without realizing it was a bunker. He landed a 12-foot eagle putt to win the 2015 US Open at Chambers Bay, just three par putts and a silver medal.
But he’s back for another shot, and his game seems to be in order. He has the power, and that day he had the power.
“I definitely have experience in this situation that will definitely help tomorrow,” Johnson said. “I have been hunting several times in a major. I have a major. … I’m still going to have to go out and play some really good golf.