SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Padraig Harrington won the PGA Championship in 2008 to become the first European-born winner since Tommy Armour of Scotland in 1930. As for England, that goes back more than a century, when Jim Barnes won the Wanamaker Trophy for the second straight time in 1919.
Three Englishmen have a chance to end that drought.
It starts with Paul Casey, at 43 with his best chance to win a major. He was four behind at the 2008 Masters until closing with a 79. Casey birdied the eighth and ninth holes, two of the toughest at Harding Park, and then closed with all pars on the back nine for a 68. He was two shots behind Dustin Johnson.
“I feel really, really good about the golf game, so yeah, I’ve played really well and I think that reflects in the clean scorecards I’ve been keeping, and I feel really positive going into tomorrow,” Casey said. “I feel like I can continue that good play. We’ll see what it yields.”
Another shot back were Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood, who each had to settle for a 70 but still were very much in the mix.
Rose already has a U.S. Open title. His victory in 2013 at Merion was a first for England since Tony Jacklin in 1970. He is trying to climb out of a mini-slump, but this is the third straight major he has been teeing off late in the final round, including the final group with U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland last summer at Pebble Beach.
“You have to keep knocking on the door. If you are knocking on the door, more often than not, you do find that round that you need on a Sunday,” Rose said. “That’s when the door opens. You never quite know when that’s going to happen.”
Fleetwood was a runner-up at the British Open last summer, and he was runner-up to Brooks Koepka at the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills by closing with a 63.
This fun fact stood out for Collin Morikawa coming into the PGA Championship: He has more wins (two) than missed cuts (one) in a little over a year as a professional.
Another fun fact: He’s well within range of win No. 3, which would give him his first major title at age 23.
Morikawa, who made his first 22 cuts as a pro, tied for Saturday’s best round, a 5-under 65, to finish in a three-way tie for fourth at 7-under, only two shots behind leader Dustin Johnson.
Though this is only Morikawa’s second major — he finished 35th at last year’s U.S. Open — it would be hard to say he hasn’t been put to the test. He has been in two playoffs this year: He won the Workday Charity Open last month after beating Justin Thomas in three holes. That came a month after he finished second at the Charles Schwab Challenge when he barely missed the winning putt on 18, then lipped out a 3-footer in the first playoff hole against Daniel Berger.
“I missed the putt and you go back to there, and it’s all a learning experience,” said Morikawa, who went to college at California, not far from this week’s tournament in San Francisco. “You have to close it. I had a putt on 18 to win. I got ahead of myself in the playoff.”
All of which might come into play for him if he’s in the hunt late Sunday.
“Over these two months, I’ve had some highs and I’ve had some lows,” he said. “I’ve looked back at everything and just kind of use that for tomorrow.”
This might be the worst Justin Thomas ever felt about a 68 in a major.
The world’s No. 1 player made the cut on the number at the PGA Championship and still held out hope of making a run. He figured he would need to be 10 under on the weekend, and he started the third round with five birdies in seven holes.
But he made two bogeys to close out the front nine — those are two of the hardest holes at Harding Park — and then dropped two more shots at the end of his round.
Thomas says he was most disappointed with his wedge play.
“I let a really good round go, and really had a great opportunity to put myself in a good position going into tomorrow,” he said. “I just didn’t capitalize on the back nine.”
He wound up in a tie for 34th, eight shots out of the lead.
Golf has gone two months since its return without spectators, and by now the players are used to it.
Sunday figures to be a different test — the pressure of a major championship minus the cheers and the energy to boost the adrenaline, or give players an idea of what’s going on around them. Paul Casey is among those who isn’t sure what to expect.
Asked if it felt like a major on Saturday, he replied: “It’s just strange. Honestly, no.”
“It’s gone through my mind a few times, the gravity of the event we’re playing in,” he said. “But you can’t get over the fact … you’re missing the roars and the excitement and the screaming. There’s no question the golf course is producing that test for us. It’s just the other elements which are usually a big part of what we do.”
Gone are the white leaderboards at the PGA Championship. Those are operated manually, and the PGA of America left them at home this year because it requires more people to run them. In the coronavirus era, the fewer the volunteers the better.
In their place are 10 electronic boards that show only the scores.
Brooks Koepka wasn’t worried about what others might be doing for another reason — no fans allows for a better view.
“All you’ve got to do is look to your left or right and you’ll see something and figure it out,” he said.
AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed.