After two days of waiting for the biggest names in golf to flex their muscle at the PGA Championship, it was the young bright stars of the game that asserted themselves at TPC Harding Park announcing “we’re ready to win a major…and win one right now.”
54 holes into the year’s first major championship and Dustin Johnson leads the way at 9-under par. Johnson of course is a major champion, with 13-years of big-time tournament experience and 21 victories to go with it but lurking behind him is a slew golf’s talented young guns. Names like Scheffler, Champ and Morikawa. Three players all 25-years old or younger, prepared to assert themselves among the game’s best.
Round three at the PGA Championship was a clash of one of golf’s seasoned veterans and the game’s up and comers, setting up a grand finale Sunday in San Francisco.
Here’s a few key takeaways from round three at TPC Harding Park.
DJ in search of PGA redemption
Winning a major championship is extremely hard — winning multiple majors is often even more difficult. Just 82 players in the game’s history have won more than one. That’s the quest Dustin Johnson has been on since winning the 2016 U.S. Open. One of the most physically gifted athletes on tour, it’s almost unthinkable that DJ has just one major title on his resume. Sunday he has an opportunity to not only become a multiple major winner but conquer his PGA Championship demons from 2010.
It was ten years ago, when Johnson was issued a one-stroke penalty on the 72nd hole of the PGA at Whistling Straits for grounding his club in one of the over 1,000 bunkers on the golf course. The stroke cost him a chance at a playoff, which was eventually won by Martin Kaymer.
Despite hitting just 7 out of 14 fairways on Saturday, Johnson fired a 5-under par 65, and he can thank his putter for that. DJ, who recently went back to his trusty TaylorMade mallet putter, rolled in 8 birdies on Saturday and leads the field in strokes gained putting.
With eleven players within 3 shots of the lead, Johnson says he plans on using his major championship experience to help him on Sunday. “I definitely have experience in this situation that definitely will help tomorrow,” said Johnson who closed with a back nine 31 on Saturday. “I've been in the hunt a bunch of times in a major. I look forward to the challenge, and I will definitely be relying on a lot of that experience that I have.”
Champ is ready to break through
Distance on the PGA Tour has been a hot topic of late, mainly due to Bryson DeChambeau and the way he is attacking golf courses, but the longest player on the PGA Tour made his move up the leaderboard on Saturday. Cameron Champ is one of the brightest young stars in golf. Just 25-years old, the Texas A&M product is mature beyond his years, and long beyond what’s imaginable.
I had a chance to spend some time with Champ back in June at his home course in Texas, where I saw his ridiculous length off the tee first-hand. Champ has what he calls his “fairway finder,” where he tees up the ball low and rips a medium flight draw. That “fairway finder” flies over 300 yards in the air, rolls out another 20-30 yards and was on full display in Round Three of the PGA Championship. Champ leads the tournament in driving distance, averaging 328 yards off the tee. He used that massive length to fire a third round 67 and finds himself just one shot off the lead.
Unlike young contenders like Scottie Scheffler and Haotong Li, Champ knows how to win on tour. He’s already won twice over his first two full seasons as a pro. His first victory came in the Fall of 2018 at the Sanderson Farms and was followed by another win a year later at the Safeway Open in Napa.
When asked about his mindset heading into Sunday’s final round Cameron said he’s keeping it simple. “Just trying to go about things not thinking too much,” said Champ. “For me when I think about things too much, things go sideways.”
Champ's future isn’t just bright — it's blinding. A major title on Sunday would simply enhance that.
Tiger stuck in neutral
A 16th major title will have to wait for Tiger Woods after an uneventful third round at Harding Park. Similar to Friday’s round, Tiger seemed to be stuck in neutral the entire day. Woods hit just 28% of his fairways on Saturday on a golf course that requires golfers to play their second shots from the short grass. His driver woes combined with putts simply not falling led to a 2-over par 74.
“I didn't make anything early,” said Woods who sits 11 strokes back of the lead at 2-over par. “They were burning edges. I just didn't get anything going and had to claw and fight to get my way back and didn't really get anything going until the last few holes.”
Woods’s quest for a record-setting 83rd win and a 16th major title will remain on hold, and when it comes to chasing Jack Nicklaus and golf’s magic number of 18 majors, Tiger knows the clock is ticking and the opportunities are dwindling. “There's not as many as when I first started playing,” said Woods.
“The reality is that the golf courses are getting bigger. They are getting longer. It's getting tighter and it's getting harder to win events, but you look at the leaderboard of most major championships, you see the same guys. May not be always the same winners, but you see the same handful of guys are there. They understand how to win major championships, how to win the big events.”
It should be interesting to see how Tiger approaches the five weeks leading up to the U.S. Open in September. Clearly one tournament in five months was not enough to prepare for the PGA Championship. With the FedEx Cup Playoffs kicking off August 20th, expect to see a lot more of Tiger before golf’s next major.
2 things to keep an eye on Sunday
— A loaded group of players sit within 3 shots off the lead. Expect someone at 6-under par to push the leaders on Sunday. My pick is Bryson DeChambeau who closed out his round on Saturday by draining a birdie putt from 95 feet.
— Phil Mickelson may not be in contention, but Lefty is showing what life for the five-time major winner may be like after his playing days are done. Mickelson hopped in the CBS broadcast booth with Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo and was simply fantastic. Could he transform into the Tony Romo of the PGA Tour? Hopefully, we get more Phil in the booth on Sunday.