By Ken MacLeod
Mito Pereira, a 27-year-old PGA Tour rookie from Chile, is in control. Tiger Woods, at 46 and in pain, is out.
The 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills may not have the leaderboard it hoped for, but plenty of drama awaits after players survived a cold, blustery Saturday.
Pereira made three birdies on the final six holes to shoot a 1-under 69 and take a three-shot lead over Matthew Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris going into the final 18. Fitzpatrick shot a 3-under 67 while Zalatoris shot 73.
Cameron Young, who played an under-the-radar practice round at Southern Hills the day that Woods came into town well before the event, shot 67 as well and is in fourth at 5-under. Abraham Ancer, the former Oklahoma Sooner, is alone in fifth at 4-under.
Two big names in contention dropped back. Justin Thomas shot 74 and is 2-under while Bubba Watson dropped back with a 73 and is also at 2-under.
Woods, who made the cut with a shot to spare, shot 79 and appeared to labor with his severe ankle injuries. He announced he was dropping out shortly after the third round concluded.
After players torched Southern Hills Friday afternoon when the winds died and greens slowed due to not being mowed Friday morning for fear of early high winds, the greens were back to normal speeds of over 11 on the stimpmeter for Saturday, while the wind switched from the prevailing south to strong out of the northeast, combined with temperatures plunging from near 90 to the high 50s for most of the round.
First-round leader Rory McIlroy shot 4-over and is at even-par, nine shots back
Ancer could give the OU fans in attendance some hope with a strong start Sunday. He battled to an even-par 70 Saturday with two birdies and two bogeys.
“Definitely happy the way I grinded it out today,” Ancer said. “It’s definitely such a good golf course and it’s so demanding off the tee and coming into the greens, and the par 3s are playing really, really tough today. I was able to keep the ball in play. Didn’t really get into much trouble and when I did, I was able to get up-and-down for the most part.
“I’m really happy the way I rolled the ball. There were a couple putts or shots I thought I made and they didn’t fall, but really happy the way the ball is coming off the putter face and the way I’m striking it. “
Among the other players with Oklahoma ties remaining in the field, Rickie Fowler shot 71 and is tied for 28th at 2-over. Talor Gooch of Edmond had double bogeys on both par-3s on the front nine and shot 4-over to drop to a tie for 36th at 3-over. Viktor Hovland of Stillwater shot 75 and is tied for 45th at 5-over.
Zalatoris bogeyed four of the first seven holes before rebounding to play 1-under the rest of the way.
“I was pretty frustrated with the start but I would rather have a frustrating start and good finish,” Zalatoris said. “It’s good momentum heading into tomorrow. It was brutal out there. I really did a poor job of leaving myself above the hole pretty much all day.
“Having to hit putts soft and outside the hole and playing with crosswinds on top of that, like on 9, we just honestly just caught a horrendous gust and just didn’t even have a chance halfway through. That ball flew probably a cup and a half off the line. So it was hard but I’m proud of the way I hung in there and fought hard all day. I thought I would have some nice momentum going into tomorrow.”
Pereira on the other hand, birdied holes 2 and 5 to take a five-shot lead before making four bogeys in five holes starting on 8. Playing in just his second major, he righted the ship with birdies on 13 and 14 and then rolled in a 27-foot birdie putt on the difficult 18th hole to stretch the lead to 3.
Pereira, 27, who is staying in Tulsa with fellow Chilean Joaquín Niemann, advanced to the PGA Tour after winning three times on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020-21. He is in his first full season on the PGA Tour and has one top-10 finish in 18 events this season.
He has a chance to become the first PGA Tour rookie to win a major since Keegan Bradley in the 2011 PGA Championship.
“I was playing really good and suddenly I made four bogeys in five holes. It was a tough place to be at that moment,” he said. “But just found myself from 13 on. Those holes are pretty tough. So really happy how I ended up playing. The birdie on 18 was a bonus.
“Just happy to be in this position.”