PGA Championship

Low scoring continues at Valhalla, setting up a Sunday shootout

May 18, 2024


Jeff Babineau

By Jeff Babineau, PGA of America Pool Reporter

LOUISVILLE, KY. – Here in the midst of the tall wispy bluegrass of Kentucky horse country, the 106th PGA Championship could be headed for a photo finish on Sunday. The fans would want it no other way.

For a third day, Xander Schauffele kept his name atop the championship’s leaderboard, but now, not only does he have somebody right alongside him (fellow Californian Collin Morikawa), but the two of them have plenty of company. Thirteen players are within five shots of the leaders. On Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club, Schauffele and Morikawa would be wise not to spend a whole lot of time looking behind them.

We all know what the great Satchel Paige said about that.

Schauffele, 30, the No. 3 player in the world, is trying to grab onto his first major, and was steady if not spectacular in Saturday’s third round, shooting 3-under 68. Morikawa, already a two-time major champion at 27, was just a tad better, getting to the clubhouse in 67. They will head into the final round knotted at 15-under 198.

A key hole on Saturday was the 446-yard, par-4 15th. Schauffele pulled his approach left into native area and did not escape the deep rough with his third, making a mess of the hole, walking away with double bogey, his first of the championship. Morikawa hit a beautiful iron in and rolled in his 6-footer for birdie. All of a sudden, Morikawa was out in front, leading by a shot.

“I mean, it was big for me,” said Morikawa. “I lipped it in, it was a 360 (degree) lip-in, and sometimes you need those things to go your way. Xander still fought back, (and) had two birdies to finish off the round ... but if he makes par there, he has a two-shot lead on me.

“It was nice to have that little swing for me.”

There were plenty of fireworks all around them, nobody eclipsing the banner day of Dubliner Shane Lowry, who stepped to the final tee, a reachable par 5, needing birdie to become the first golfer in history to shoot 61 at a major. The big man failed to make it happen, driving it in the right rough, laying up, wedging to 11 feet and making par to “settle” for 9-under 62.

Lowry wore a huge smile afterward, soaking up the satisfaction of becoming the fifth player in history to shoot 62 at a major. One of the men he is chasing, Schauffele, has done it twice, once this week. Lowry had a putt at 61, with only 11 feet, 10 inches of green standing between him and history.

How big was the difference between 62 and 61? Well, consider that men have been playing in these majors since eight professionals teed it up over three 12-hole loops in Prestwick, Scotland, in 1860. Tens of thousands of golfers have played tens of thousands of rounds at majors, and Lowry was one last birdie putt from claiming the best round of them all. Ever.

“I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every minute of it, obviously,” said Lowry, the 2019 Open Championship winner. He enters Sunday two shots behind the co-leaders. Lowry was eight shots out of the lead when he teed off on Saturday morning, and two when it ended. So the round came at a great time. It was progress.

“Look,” Lowry said, “I went out there with a job to do today, and my job was to try to get myself back in the tournament. I definitely did that.”

Also two shots back with one round to go: Viktor Hovland, who made a great run during last year’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill, and Bryson DeChambeau, the long-bombing scientist who looks to add to his 2020 U.S. Open trophy.

Hovland was the hottest golfer on the planet at the end of the 2023 season, winning the PGA Tour’s lucrative FedEx Cup, then went separate ways with his teacher, Joe Mayo, and tunneled down a couple of rabbit holes trying to get better. He recently reunited with Mayo. The instant results he has seen in his play this week have exceeded his best expectations.

“I'm surprised in the sense that -- just how far away I felt last week,” said Hovland, 26, from Oslo, Norway. “But I'm not surprised in the way that I'm here because, like, I never doubted my abilities. It was just kind of my machinery was not working very well.

“I never doubted I couldn't play golf anymore. It's just like the technique was not good enough to compete.”

DeChambeau showed great patience through his round on Saturday, then came up with a huge finish. Sitting just a few feet off the front of the green in two at the par-5 closing hole, DeChambeau pulled out one of his five wedges, lofted a soft chip over a couple of sprinkler heads, and watched his ball turn gently left and vanish into the hole.

Eagle. It was his second eagle of the week, the finishing touch on his 67.

“Exhilarating,” is how DeChambeau described it. The ball vanished for 3, propelling him to 13 under, and DeChambeau punched the air with a mighty right. “I haven't felt like that in a long time. The only other time I felt like it was when I shot 58 at Greenbrier (in a LIV Golf event). That was pretty exciting there. I was pretty pumped.”

Scottie Scheffler, the No. 1 player in the world and a winner in four of his last five starts, shot 2-over 73, ending his stretch of 42 consecutive rounds of par or better. He had not been above par since last summer’s Tour Championship in Atlanta. Scheffler began the third round at Valhalla three shots out of the lead. Saturday evening, he trailed by eight.

Louisville’s own Justin Thomas, who came from seven shots back to win the PGA Championship at Southern Hills in a playoff two years ago, will begin Sunday five shots out after a 67. Jordan Spieth, who needs to win the PGA Championship to complete a career Grand Slam, shot 67 Saturday, his low round of the week, and will enter Sunday seven shots behind the leaders.

Light winds and receptive greens kept scoring very low once more on Saturday, as Valhalla struggled to play defense against a powerful field. Fifteen players are double-digits below par, which is a 54-hole record in a major. Previously, the most players double-digits below through 54 holes was seven, last done at the Open Championship at St. Andrews’ Old Course in 2022.