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Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy Shoot Disappointing 74s, Putting PGA Nearly Out of Reach

McIlroy was the toast of the tournament after his first-round 65. Thomas was right there after a 67-67 start. What happened?
Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy are pictured at the 2022 PGA Championship.

Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy saw promising starts hit the wall on Saturday at Southern Hills.

TULSA, Okla. — Tiger Woods is the most recognizable name in professional golf and after him, the next level of recognition includes Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy. 

So, when both Thomas and McIlroy’s names are on the leaderboard, whatever the event, it becomes a little more extraordinary.

And when it’s a major championship, everything is ratcheted up even higher, which was why expectations were so high when both names were on the PGA Championship leaderboard after two rounds.

So, when both fell flat shooting a couple of 4-over 74s in Saturday’s third round, the questioning and speculation began in earnest.

How is it McIlroy could open with a 65, his lowest opening round in a major championship since his victorious 2011 U.S. Open, but then  struggle in the second round and implode in the third round?

After arguably playing the best golf of anyone through two rounds in the late/early draw, which turned out to be the more difficult with the weather conditions, Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion, opened with consecutive 3-under 67s and was in perfect position just behind the lead group of Will Zalatoris and Mito Pereira -- and then just disappeared on Saturday. Why?

When players step up and play well it’s fair to give them kudos, even if they don’t win. Professional golf is hard. But when they melt under the overcast skies of Tulsa as both McIlroy and Thomas did on Saturday, you must wonder why.

There are no easy answers. McIlroy refused to discuss his round with the media on Saturday, deciding to leave quickly after signing his card, with no time spent on the range or the putting green to fix whatever ailed him.

As for Thomas, he did discuss his round and went to the range, but all in just 45 minutes. Little time was spent hitting balls; he needed to decompress.

“I've been playing really, really good golf lately and I think I just put a little too much pressure on myself sometimes,” Thomas said. “There are not very many tournaments you could shoot 4 over on Saturday and still have a chance to win and, and that's the case for me. So, I've just got to forget about it. Try and stay positive, understand that I'm playing really good golf.”

Oddly, while Thomas had run-of-the-mill statistics in Saturday’s third round, McIlroy was fifth in strokes-gained off the tee and 16th in strokes-gained approach, but 78th in strokes-gained putting.

Sitting at 2 under, seven shots back of Pereira from Chile and with only a handful of players in front of him, Thomas is correct -- he still has a chance with an untested Pereira in front.

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So, while a Thomas postmortem may be premature and he could clearly go from disappointment to a champion in one round, that is not the case for McIlroy.

For the Ulsterman, Southern Hills can’t get in his rearview quick enough.

What started with so much promise has gone to so much despair and it is all tied to one thing, his putting.

McIlroy was ranked fifth in strokes-gained off the tee and 16th in strokes-gained approach on Saturday, but 78th in strokes-gained putting.

Parallel his putting stats on Saturday versus the same stats in Thursday’s first round, where he was fourth, and a nine-shot differential makes perfect sense and may explain why the 33-year-old McIlroy hasn’t won a major since 2014.

Saying he is not a very good putter almost seems like a copout when you chronicle the amount of success in his career -- 20 PGA Tour victories, including 4 majors.

It’s not heart or desire, and at his age, McIlroy should be in the sweet spot of his playing career.

Yet, Saturday at Southern Hills was more a common occurrence than aberration and only McIlroy has a clue as to why.

McIlroy may come out tomorrow and shoot at every pin as he did on Sunday at Augusta, where he shot a 8-under 64 and finished second, or he could finish in the middle of the pack.

Either outcome will not make a difference going forward.

McIlroy had his chance to change the course of his major career this week and unless he shots a 60 or better and wins coming from nine back, nothing else will be good enough.

Thomas wants to win and has a chance on Sunday, but McIlroy needs to win and has no chance.

More PGA Championship Coverage from Morning Read

> Pereira? Zalatoris? Fitzpatrick? This PGA is Anyone's Guess
> Tiger Withdraws from PGA Championship After Third-Round 79
> Tiger Woods Balloons to 79 on Saturday in Unfavorable Weather
> In Dreary, Cold Conditions, Webb Simpson Fires Saturday 65
> Jack Nicklaus is Being Sued by the Nicklaus Companies
> ESPN Anchor Sage Steele Thanks Medical Personnel After Accident
> What to Watch in Round 4

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