One by one the leaders limped off the final hole, bruised by the horrors of the Green Mile, Quail Hollow’s closing three-hole tribute to the American penal system. When you consider the term is one used by inmates to camouflage the final walk from cell to execution chamber for death row prisoners, you begin to get the picture.
Yes, it is only sport, but in golfing terms this is the place where hopes of victory at the PGA Championship meet a gruesome end. It is hard to describe the look on Jason Day’s face as he went through the hand-shaking rituals after carding a quadruple-bogey eight at the last. And this after a bogey at 17, five shots drained in two holes to take him back to level par, seven off Kevin Kisner’s lead.
For the leaders at least, this was moving day in reverse. Kisner dropped three shots over the Green Mile, to fall back to seven under par, one clear of this week’s random contender Chris Stroud, who bogeyed the last two holes.
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Rickie Fowler and Paul Casey both shipped four shots over the stretch, falling from the thick of it at five under par to the periphery on one under. Those that negotiated the last lap of the course without penalty saw their prospects today rise considerably.
Hideki Matsuyama did not have his best stuff yesterday but he remains in contention at six under par as a consequence of his clean run through the mile. Justin Thomas was sucked into the fray via the same mechanism, posting a tidy 69 to close on five under par.
Day was so distraught by his finish he could not bring himself to discuss it with the media. The media had no problem chipping in on his behalf, with Sir Nick Faldo getting right to it with this damning observation, “one of the worst decisions I’ve seen a professional golfer make”.
DISASTER FOR DAY
He was talking about Day’s attempt to extract himself from the trouble he found off the tee following a wild tee shot into the trees to the right. Instead of taking his lumps and chipping out, he sought to advance his ball the 187 yards to the hole from behind a tree. He ended up thrashing the tree trunk with his club. His ball ended up in a bush, incurring a penalty.
He would eventually reach the green in five strokes, and adding insult to injury he three putted to slide fully ten places down the leaderboard to a share of 16th place. The pain of that was only increased since his collapse came on the back of three straight birdies to bring him back into contention.
Playing alongside Day, Kisner was having problems of his own. After a double bogey at the 16th, where he found water with his approach, he was scrambling again at the last. Another erant second shot found the greenside rough, only 49 yards from the hole but in the Bermuda grass, escape becomes a lottery. He hacked it out onto the putting surface but hardly nearer the whole and from 46 feet did well to limit the damage to a bogey. So focused was Kisner on his own issues he lost track of Day’s unravelling.
“I didn't even know what he made. I wasn't keeping his score. I was pretty consumed with what the heck I was trying it do on the second shot. I had never seen a hole location short of a false front before. It's unfortunate. He played good coming in and then gave it all away, so that's tough.”
Now we move into the who dares wins phase, championship Sunday, when those on the leaderboard have something to lose and those chasing everything to gain. Kisner has a sense of that already. “I had a chance to run away from guys and take people out of the tournament that were four or five, six back, and I didn't do it. Now I'm in a dogfight.
“This game will do it to you. As soon as you think you're on top of things, it finds a way to kick you right in the face. So there's no real reason for me getting mad or upset or showing y'all that I'm ticked off. I'm pretty good at keeping it all in. The golf course here is so hard. If you get pissed, you're just going to throw away more shots. There's no real reason to show that emotion. I'll show plenty of emotion if I win tomorrow, don't worry.”
In the context of the carnage happening around him Graeme DeLaet’s compiled one of the sweetest back nines in major history, gaining six shots over four holes to give himself an outside chance of victory today. Birdie, eagle, eagle, birdie was thrust of it, starting at the par-3 13th, where he was an inch from an ace.
He made a two at the drivable par-4 14th after almost hitting the pin with his tee shot, pinged his approach to 12 feet to set up eagle at 15 and topped that with a rare birdie at 16. After picking the ball out of the 14th hole, DeLaet turned to his cadde Jules and said: “Man, I could have just gone 1, 1,” before adding, “but going 2, 2 is pretty good on those holes, too.”
SPIETH AND MCILROY UNDERWHELM
Jordan Spieth’s attempt to become the youngest at 24 to win all four majors is all but over after a third round 73 left him ten shots back and admitting that he might have to wait sometime yet before nailing the PGA Championship to the personal honours board.
“I think is going to be the toughest for me. If we look historically back on my career, I think I will play this tournament worse than the other three majors just in the way that it's set up. I feel like my game truly suits the other three majors maybe more than a PGA Championship. But I believe we can play anywhere and win anywhere. It's just a matter of having everything in sync at the right time.”
Rory McIlroy, who had another underwhelming day, shooting 73 to sit one adrift of Spieth on four over par, claimed he is still hampered by the rib injury that has disrupted his year. “It doesn’t affect me on the course, but off it, I can’t put the work in that I need. I’ll get through the last round and see what I’m going to do.”
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