PGA Championship: Logjam atop the leaderboard sets up fantastic Sunday

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The reason why golf is such a demanding, and maddening, sport is that you can’t take a single hole off. Each one of the 72 holes has the potential to upend your round, and for Xander Schauffele, that hole ended up being the 15th on his third day.

Schauffele had held the outright lead after both of the prior rounds, and after holing a 29-foot birdie putt on the 14th, he stood at -15, two strokes clear of the field.

But Schauffele hasn’t yet won a major, and doing so requires keeping every single element of your game on point. Scheffler flew his approach on the par-4 15th, ending up in the thick rough behind the green. One chunked approach, one missed bogey putt, and one birdie from Collin Morikawa, and Schauffele’s two-stroke lead turned into a one-stroke deficit with three holes to play. That’s how quickly the leaderboard can turn on Moving Day.

Tied going to the 18th, both Morikawa and Schauffele finished out with birdies to move to -15, two shots clear of a mad dash behind them.

"You want the lead," Schauffele said. "Against these guys, you want as many shots as you can possibly take, no matter how nerve-racking it can be."

Schauffele and Morikawa knew they had no wiggle room, thanks to a miraculous round earlier in the day from Shane Lowry. The European Ryder Cup stalwart and 2019 Open champion absolutely torched Valhalla Golf Club on Saturday, carding a 62 — tied for the lowest score ever recorded in a major. He had a chance to set the record, but his birdie putt on 18 rolled just left.

"Probably the most disappointed anyone can ever be shooting 62," Lowry smiled after the round. "I knew what was at stake."

The record of 62 had already been reached four separate times, most recently by Schauffele just this past Thursday. Lowry is one of three players who are just two back.

Other big names put up low scores that set them up for a charge at Schauffele and Morikawa on Sunday. Sahith Theegala fell as far as five strokes off the pace before birdieing six of the final 10 holes to finish at -14.

Bryson DeChambeau eagled the 18th to put himself at -13 and right in the hunt for a victory. "Exhilarating," he called the moment. "I haven't felt like that in a long time. The only other time I felt like it was when I shot 58 at Greenbrier [at a LIV tournament in 2023]."

Victor Hovland birdied the 18th to join the traffic jam at -13. Justin Rose and Robert MacIntyre are one stroke back at -12.

"We're out there fighting as much as we can, but I'm going to get nervous tomorrow," MacIntyre allowed. "I'm going to be nervous tonight. But all I can do is try my best, and that's honestly as much as I try and say it to myself, that's all I can do is just try my best and see where we end up. If I'm in with a chance, I'm in with a chance, and then we may start think about winning a golf tournament."

Hometown hero Justin Thomas gave the tournament one of its most thrilling moments on the 14th, when he chipped in for birdie before a massive gallery:

“It was crazy. I had goosebumps for pretty much right up until I got to 15 tee,” Thomas said. “It was one of the coolest moments of my career.” Thomas is at 10-under.

In total, 15 players are within five shots of the lead, and six are within two strokes of the lead. This is one of the most tightly bunched fields of the last 30 years' worth of PGA Championships; six players were within two shots after three rounds in 2020, and seven players were within two shots in 2005.

The thing about Moving Day is, you’re not guaranteed to just move up the leaderboard. Most notably, the chaos around Scottie Scheffler on Friday may have finally caught up to the world No. 1. He went double-bogey-bogey over a three-hole stretch to start his round, finished the day at -7 — a 2-over 73 was his first over-par round since last August — and almost certainly is no longer a factor to win either his second major or a Grand Slam.

Earlier, defending champion Brooks Koepka struggled through a +3 day that could have been worse had he not birdied his final two holes. Koepka finished the day at -3 and well off the pace.

Rory McIlroy, meanwhile, finished with a three-under 68 that left him at -8, well off the pace of the leaders. McIlroy left at least four strokes out on the course with less-than-targeted putting, and he knew exactly what he’d missed.

“I putted really well on Thursday, and then just the last couple days it's sort of deserted me,” McIlroy said after the round. “I need the putter to sort of heat up again, and with everything else it's doing, there's certainly another low one in me.”

Statistics suggest that only about a half-dozen players are in position to win. Twelve of the last 13 PGA champions, Elias Sports Bureau notes, were won by a player within two shots of the lead after 54 holes. The only exception: Justin Thomas, who won from seven back in 2022, and that needed a 72nd-hole collapse from Mito Pereira. So there’s always a chance.

"There are going to be guys that take it very, very low early on," Morikawa said. "There are a ton of guys that could do a lot tomorrow."

Weather for Sunday is forecast to be warm and clear; the rain and fog that have dogged this tournament through its early days appear to be done. Several of the world’s best players have just one more night to figure out how to win the year’s second major.

"This is one of the big four that we try to win," Hovland said. "It's cool history, cool trophy. Everything about it is super special. It's a great field. You just want to be a part of having a name on that trophy."

Worth remembering: two of the previous three PGA Championships held at Valhalla have ended in a playoff. The way the leaderboard looks after three rounds, this tournament could well be headed for a third.