SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Nick Watney won’t be a overlooked at this major.
Watney opened a three-stroke lead at the PGA Championship on Saturday afternoon, making birdies on five of his first seven holes on his way to 12 under. Liang Wenchong joined a group at 9 under with eight birdies. Also in the group were Dustin Johnson, who melted down at Pebble Beach after being the 54-hole leader, 2003 U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk and Rory McIlroy.
Tiger Woods had a chance to make things interesting, pulling within five strokes of the lead after the second round was completed Saturday morning. But he backed up in the third round, and was 11 strokes off the lead with two holes to play.
Watney was seventh at both the Masters and the British Open, tying for high American honors at St. Andrews. But he wasn’t a factor in either tournament, and few outside his own family paid much attention.
That’s not the case this week. The fog that wreaked havoc on the first two days of the tournament finally lifted and the wind shifted, leaving Whistling Straits primed for some low numbers.
“With the dots where they are for this afternoon, there’s some really tough pins, but there’s some pretty accessible pins,” Woods said before the round began. “Pins that you can take, be pretty aggressive at. You’ll probably see some pretty good scores this afternoon.”
Watney leapfrogged second-round leader Matt Kuchar with birdies on his first two holes and kept pouring it on. He was strong off the tee and solid on the greens, and recovered well from his few mistakes. Take the 598-yard No. 5. His chip on his second shot took off, flying clear across the green and stopping about 18 feet past the hole.
He wound up with a birdie.
Watney didn’t give up a stroke until No. 8, when his second shot landed in thick rough. He got within 8 feet, but the putt to save par wouldn’t drop.
Woods had worked himself back into the mix Saturday morning, but his putter forced him to scramble in the afternoon. He left a 20-foot birdie putt short on No. 1. He drove into the left rough on par-5 No. 2, but made a great recovery and left himself 10 feet for birdie. But the putt ran alongside the right edge of the cup and refused to drop. As the crowd groaned, Woods rubbed the back of his neck.
There was trouble off the fourth tee, as Woods drove into the deep rough on the left side of the hole. He tried to jam his driver head first into his bag, but even that wouldn’t drop.
He punched into the middle of the fairway, and still had a chance to save par with a 15-footer from above the hole. But it ran past the hole, too. Woods stood there glaring, hand on hip, for a few moments before tapping in for bogey, his first in 12 holes.
Tom Lehman had the shot of the day, acing the 217-yard 17th with a 4-iron. Lehman, who won the Senior PGA title earlier this year, ran off the tee slapping hands and high-fiving fans.