Pereira, backed by late birdies, leads by 3 at PGA
7: 56 PM ET
TULSA, Okla. — Mito Pereira skidded out of control just like so many other contenders in the wind and cold of Southern Hills. He returned to the course Saturday in the PGA Championship at the perfect time.
Pereira steadied himself with three birdies over the last six holes, the final one from just outside 25 feet for a 1-under 69. That gave the 27-year-old from Chile a 3-shot lead over Matt Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris.
At stake for the 27-year-old Pereira is 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 well and suddenly I made four birdies in five holes. He said, “It was a difficult place to be at that time.” “But just found myself from 13 on. These holes are quite difficult. It was a great experience. The birdie on 18 was a bonus.
” Just happy to be here. There were many missed opportunities on a day with a wind out to the north that made Southern Hills play completely different.
Former PGA champion Justin Thomas went 12 holes without a birdie, and then he gave it back with a bogey on the closing hole for a 74. Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson looked shaky as ever on the greens, making three bogeys over his last four holes for a 73. They moved from the edge of contention to 7 shots behind.
Rory McIlroy had a six-hole stretch around the turn that he played in 6 over — and that even included a birdie — for a 74 to fall 9 shots back.
Zalatoris had his problems, too. He dropped four shots in the first seven holes, and then went from a 1-shot lead into a 5-shot deficit before he crawled back into the game.
” I was frustrated at the start, but I would prefer a frustrating start and a good finish. Zalatoris stated that there is good momentum going into tomorrow.
Pereira, the top player on the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit last year, was at 9-under 201. He will be in the final group of his first PGA Championship — and only his second major — with Fitzpatrick, who birdied his last two holes for a 67 to quietly sneak into contention.
Zalatoris will be in the penultimate group with Cameron Young, the son of a PGA professional, who charged into the mix by driving the 296-yard 17th hole and making a 25-foot eagle. He wound up with a 67 and was 4 shots behind. What the four top players have in common? Inexperience at the highest level. None of them have won a major. None have won on the PGA Tour. Fitzpatrick is the No. 17 player in the world, with seven titles on the European tour.
Pereira was not immune from a slide. He became the first player to reach 10 under for the championship with a 10-foot birdie putt on the par-5 sixth, and he stretched the lead to 5 shots when Zalatoris made another bogey. The Chilean made bogey on the Par-3 eighth. He then took a shot from the fairway on ninth and made bogey. 10 and into the bunker for bogey, and went over the 12th green for a fourth bogey in five holes.
Zalatoris briefly caught him with a 35-foot birdie putt on the par-5 13th. That only lasted as long as it took Pereira to match birdies from 18 feet, and the Chilean answered with a daring shot over the edge of a bunker to 6 feet for birdie on the par-3 14th.
Only 16 players remained under par at Southern Hills, a list that included Webb Simpson. To make it to the final hole, he had par to avoid a bunker. In a tie for 64th at the start of the third round, Simpson shot a 65 and moved into a tie for 10th. He was 8 shots behind Pereira, making it seem too far to catch him. However, so little is known about his reaction to the pressure of trying for a major.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.