Two-time US Open champion Brooks Koepka seized a two-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship while Tiger Woods charged into contention for his first major title in 10 years.
Fourth-ranked Koepka, who had stretched the lead as large as five shots, fired a four-under par 66 to stand on 12-under 198 after 54 holes at Bellerive Country Club in the year’s final major event.
The laid-back 24-year-old American has never before led a major entering the final round but he shrugged off having 13 rivals within five strokes, even a long-awaited Woods challenge among seven major champions in that pack.
“I’m just focused on me. I feel like, if I do what I’m supposed to, I should win the golf tournament,” Koepka said. “I’m extremely confident. I like the way I’m hitting the ball.”
Koepka, who became the first back-to-back US Open winner since 1989 in June at Shinnecock, birdied five of the first nine holes but stumbled with bogeys at 14 and 15 only to boost his lead with a birdie at the par-5 17th.
“I played pretty well. Got off to a hot start,” Koepka said. “On the back just made a couple bad swings. It was nice to right the ship there. Made a couple of key putts. I feel really good.”
Australian Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion, was second on 200 after shooting 65 Saturday with Spain’s Jon Rahm and Americans Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland, each chasing his first major title, sharing third on 201.
“Brooks had a massive lead and then two holes later it was one shot,” Rahm said. “Going into the back nine within three shots on Sunday, anything is doable.”
Woods, a 14-time major champion in his comeback season from spinal fusion surgery, fired a 66 to share fourth on 202 with second-ranked defending champion Justin Thomas, 2009 British Open winner Stewart Cink, Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Australia’s Jason Day and South African Charl Schwartzel.
“There’s a lot of star power and it should be. It’s a major championship and you should see the best players in the world come to the top,” Koepka said.
“With so many big names, you would expect two or three of them to really make a run, make a push to get off to a good start and challenge me.”
That’s just what Woods has in mind. He birdied five of the first eight holes then closed with 10 consecutive pars and finished four off the pace of Koepka, who took his second consecutive US Open triumph in June at Shinnecock.
“I could’ve been a little bit closer but I’ve got a shot going into tomorrow,” Woods said. “I hit it good on the back nine. I just didn’t make anything. I struggled to hit it as the greens were getting slower. I just have to make the adjustments better than I did.”
The 42-year-old former world number one finished off the last 11 holes of a storm-halted second-round 66 Saturday morning, then delighted spectators with a sizzling afternoon start.
“Tiger was performing great. It was just like turning back the hands of a clock,” said Cink, who played alongside Woods.
Koepka, who missed the Masters with a left wrist injury, could become only the fifth player to win the US Open and PGA Championship in the same year, the first since Woods in 2000.
Aussies Scott and Day were playing with their thoughts on Jarrod Lyle, the Aussie golfer who died Wednesday after a long battle with leukemia.
“It has been a very difficult week,” Scott said. “We’re all sending our thoughts back to his family in Australia.”
Hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy could be a major tribute as well.
“I’m playing some good golf. I just need to shoot a lot one to try to get these guys. The course is gettable if you’re shooting from the fairways,” Scott said.
Woods, who has never won a major title when not leading after 54 holes, won his most recent major at the 2008 US Open and has not won any event since the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational, although he led late on Sunday in last month’s British Open.
“I’m tired. It just takes a lot out of you,” Woods said. “I played 29 holes in the heat. It takes it out of you not just physically but mentally.”
Britain’s Matt Wallace made the first hole-in-one of the tournament, using a 5-iron for an ace at the 232-yard, par-3 16th hole.