|-9 M Pereira (Chi); -6 M Fitzpatrick (Eng), W Zalatoris (US); -5 C Young (US); -4 A Ancer (Mex); -3 S Power (Ire)|
|Selected others: -2 B Watson (US), J Thomas (US); Level T Fleetwood (Eng), R McIlroy (NI); +2 J Rose (Eng); +12 T Woods (US)|
Mito Pereira emerged with a three-shot lead at the US PGA Championship as England’s Matt Fitzpatrick played his way into contention in round three.
Chile’s Pereira is playing in just his second major and finished with a birdie to reach nine under par in Oklahoma.
Fitzpatrick, chasing a first major title, will play in Sunday’s final group after a superb three-under 67 moved him joint second on six under.
He is level with Will Zalatoris, who led after round two but hit a 73.
Scoring conditions were tough on a chilly Saturday, with the majority of the field finding themselves heading in the wrong direction on golf’s traditional moving day.
It was largely those who could hang on to what they had who fared better, bar a handful of well-constructed rounds from the likes of Fitzpatrick, Seamus Power of Ireland and American Cameron Young, who also shot 67s.
Young’s round included an eagle at the par-four 17th to move him to five under par, one ahead of Mexican Abraham Ancer, who shot a level-par 70, while Power is at three under.
It sets up an intriguing final day with none of the top top six having won a major.
American Webb Simpson also defied the trend to post the low round of the day, a five-under 65, that hoisted him to one under.
Rory McIlroy is level par after toiling to a four-over 74 that included a double bogey and a triple bogey on two of the par three holes. It leaves him eight strokes adrift, while Tiger Woods also struggled, finishing the day at 12 over par after a nine-over 79 and the 15-time major champion withdrew.
Fitzpatrick quietly effective
Sheffield’s Fitzpatrick can only boast one top-10 major finish in his career so far, with that coming on his debut at the Masters six years ago, but the 27-year-old will head out on Sunday in the final pairing after taming Southern Hills on Saturday.
The world number 17 began with successive bogeys but he pulled one shot back almost immediately, holing out from the sand at the fifth, and, after another bogey at seven, began to edge his way up the leaderboard with birdies at nine and the par-five 13th.
It was a day where fortunes turned quickly and Fitzpatrick’s round went from being solid to spectacular as he closed with back-to-back birdies, the last celebrated with the fist pump of a man who knows he has a real chance to win a first major trophy.
“I am looking forward to [Sunday] whatever happens, I have played well for three rounds at least,” said Fitzpatrick.
“I have had the experience of being in the lead before in Europe and a major is completely different. This is my first time ever being in proper contention so I am looking forward to trying to stay as level as possible.”
Pereira finishes strongly after wobble
Zalatoris has four top-10 finishes in his first seven major starts and looked well placed to edge closer to a first win after setting the pace at the halfway stage, one clear of the field.
But the Texan, just like playing partner Pereira, is yet to win on the PGA Tour and the pressure seemed to tell on a calamitous front nine.
The 25-year-old struggled to get to grips with his putting stroke with four bogeys coming in his opening seven holes.
Pereira, who revealed he only had nine and a half hours’ sleep on Friday night, rather than his average of 11, started the day in second but crashed in a birdie on the second to leapfrog Zalatoris and lead on nine under.
With Zalatoris’ touch with the putter continuing to desert him, another birdie at the fifth meant Pereira – on only his second major start – had a four-shot lead by the time he approached the seventh tee.
But the 27-year-old from Santiago ran into his own problems around the turn, carding four bogeys and dropping more shots in a five-hole spell than he had all tournament.
The world number 100 showed resolve to wrestle back control with successive birdies on the 13th and 14th, while Zalatoris also rediscovered some composure to card a three-over 73, but Pereira put himself in pole position for a first major title by rolling in from 27 feet for his fifth birdie of the day on the final hole to card a 69.
It is the first time he has led after a round in any PGA Tour event and he becomes the first player to hold the outright 54-hole lead on their debut in this tournament since John Daly, who went on to win in 1991.
“If you play really good golf during the week, you’re going to win – doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your 10th time,” said Pereira.
“I’m just going to try keep my head in the moment, try to enjoy it too as I’m in the final pairing of a major. If you would have told me this two or three years ago it’d be unreal.”
McIlroy frustrated on day three
McIlroy’s recent major performances have been characterised by slow starts and strong finishes, but at Southern Hills he appeared to be doing the reverse by shooting a five-under 65 to lead after round one.
However, after a 71 in Friday’s wind, the Northern Irishman began the day five off Zalatoris’ pace.
He opened with a run of five pars but a double bogey on the par-three sixth, after finding the water with his tee shot, sparked a costly run.
The four-time major champion, who is looking to end his eight-year major drought, bogeyed the next after almost finding the water again and made it four strokes lost in three holes with another dropped shot on eight that pegged him back to level par.
McIlroy birdied the ninth but that proved a false dawn as the 33-year-old proceeded to drop three shots at the par-three 11th, leaking his tee shot left and then three-putting once he finally made it on to the green.
And then came a run that might just have kept his championship hopes alive.
McIlroy birdied the par-five 13th after reaching the green in two before sticking a superb tee shot to a couple of feet to also birdie the par-three 14th. He made it three birdies in four holes on the 16th.
However, a dropped shot on the last compounded a frustrating afternoon.