The PGA is a wide-open brawl. But 3 golfers are missing

Bryson DeChambeau's chip-in eagle means he'll be a key figure on Sunday at the PGA Championship.

Bryson DeChambeau's chip-in eagle means he'll be a key figure on Sunday at the PGA Championship.

Getty Images

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — As we stare down Sunday at the PGA Championship, our leaderboard is awash with awesome contenders.

But let’s start with three guys it’s missing.

Scottie Scheffler entered Saturday as the betting co-favorite. Friday had only reinforced the public’s sense of his invincibility; he’d gotten arrested and taken to jail but still returned to shoot 66 and began the day two shots off the lead.

Saturday wasn’t quite so easy. He made double bogey at No. 2 and bogey at No. 3 and another bogey at No. 4. Before the round had even got moving, his chances at the championship had apparently vanished. And while he scattered five birdies across the rest of his scorecard he canceled them out with three bogeys, too, settling for a round of 2-over 73 that left him T24. It was his first over-par round of the season; it’s impossible to ignore the connection between Friday’s chaos and Saturday’s letdown.

“I definitely did not feel like myself today, for sure,” Scheffler said in an interview on CBS. But he was keen not to make excuses. “But yesterday happened and I did my best to recover from it and come out here and compete today. I did a great job yesterday of coming out and competing, riding the adrenaline. This morning was definitely not my usual routine for a round, if that makes sense. But at the end of the day I came out here hoping to have a good round and wasn’t able to get it done, which was pretty frustrating, but I’ll come back and try again tomorrow.”

Brooks Koepka began the day at the edge of contention at seven under par. But as a major championship specialist and the defending champ, crowds and bookmakers alike were expecting a charge from the five-time major winner.

Instead they got a strange showing from a player who looked like Koepka but didn’t play like him; through 16 holes he was five over par, hadn’t made a birdie and had the second-worst score in the field. Birdies at 17 and 18 may have softened the landing of a three-over 74, but still: He’s far from contention at T47.

Rory McIlroy had a different sort of day than his fellow pre-tournament favorites. He began further back but surged further up; after bogeying No. 1 he reeled off birdies at 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10 to climb within three shots of the lead. But he missed tantalizing birdie tries at 12 and 13 and made bogeys at 14 and 16 and wound up stalled out at eight under par, T19 and seven shots back of the lead.

“There was a six-hole stretch there where just sort of the putter cooled on me,” McIlroy said post-round. “Depending on what happens tomorrow, that’s sort of the — if I look back on the tournament, I may rue that six-hole stretch where I wasn’t able to hole any putts.”

Much was made of the fact that entering the tournament, Scheffler, Koepka and McIlroy had won their previous starts. Come Sunday they’ll be conspicuously absent from the top of the leaderboard. But this PGA Championship has found eager, compelling replacements.

Bring on the contenders! There’s a boatload of ’em. Soft conditions yielded low scores and a bunched leaderboard, and as a result Valhalla is promising an all-out brawl come Sunday.

You want a guy who needs a win? Enter Xander Schauffele. He led the tournament after the first round and the second round and now he co-leads after the third round following Saturday’s three-under 68. He held the 54-hole lead last week, too, but got chased down by McIlroy. Other than Scheffler, he’s been the most consistent player in the world. He’s finished top 20 at eight majors in a row. He hasn’t missed a cut anywhere in the world in more than two years. But he hasn’t won in nearly two years, either, and while Schauffele has a gold medal and a bunch of PGA Tour wins he’s still missing a major championship.

“When you haven’t won a golf tournament in a few years, you have to be pretty resilient,” he said earlier in the week. “I’m just patient and trying to play the best golf I can and stay out of my own way. I know I’m playing really good golf right now, and all can I could do is focus on my process and my talk with [his caddie] Austin, and that’s about it.”

You want a proven major champ looking for a comeback win? We’ve got that, too! Collin Morikawa won two majors in the first eight starts of his career but he’s been fighting to get back ever since. He showed clear signs in a T3 at the Masters. He changed coaches. He’s now changed back. And he enters Sunday hoping for a clear plan and a clear mind.

As for that work with coach Rick Sessinghaus:

“A lot of it is just him going through all the mumbo-jumbo and the gibberish I pretty much say to him and formulating a plan of saying, ‘okay, this is what we’re going to focus on for today,'” Morikawa said. “I think the goal for me tonight before my tee time is just to be mentally sharp by that first hole.”

Collin Morikawa tees off during the third round of the 2024 PGA Championship.
Staff picks: Who wins the 2024 PGA Championship on Sunday?
By: GOLF Editors

You want a fiery, fun-loving fan favorite? We’ve got him, too! Sahith Theegala admitted earlier this week that he can’t believe he’s ranked No. 12 in the world; he doesn’t think he’s that good. Now he’s just one shot back entering the final round of a major championship.

“It’s going to be a different feel tomorrow,” he said on Saturday evening. “I felt a lot of those feelings today and was able to overcome the nerves and stick to my process. I’ve been playing so well so just want to keep it rolling, and I’m just going to have a lot of fun tomorrow. I’ll be nervous and it’s going to be great to embrace those nerves because it’s a feeling you don’t get often.”

You want an Irish legend who just tied the major scoring record? Pour a Guinness! Shane Lowry had a putt for 61 on Saturday but left it just short; that was the only gripe he could muster from a 9-under 62 that propelled him to 13 under, two back of the lead.

“It’s been a while since I’ve felt like that. It’s a nice feeling to have,” Lowry said. “Going to enjoy it and kind of get out tomorrow and then just try and do it again.”

You want the star golfer who’s surprised to be here? Ja! Enter Viktor Hovland, who was the hottest player in the world late in 2023 but changed coaches, changed philosophies and lost his way — until they reunited last week.

“I thought this was potentially going to be a little bit of a project and maybe take six, eight weeks before I would see kind of immediate improvement,” Hovland said. Instead he’s two shots back. “Yeah, that was kind of best-case scenario right there.”

You want the content king? We’ve got him! Thanks to a fist-pumping final-hole eagle on Saturday evening, Bryson DeChambeau will play alongside Hovland in the third-to-last group. After the chip-in his comments to the media included mention of the limitations of finite element analysis modeling, a quick reminder of what makes him different. He relished Sunday’s finish. He hopes he’ll enjoy Sunday just as much.

“Exhilarating,” he said. “I haven’t felt like that in a long time.”

You want an aging major champ chasing a capstone trip to the winner’s circle? He’s here. Justin Rose couldn’t match Lowry’s round but shot 64 from the same group; he’ll start Sunday within three shots of the lead and was honest and thoughtful about just how much the chase will mean.

“It’s nice to sort of see it appear in the events I really want it to because that’s what’s motivating me to stick with it and keep working hard is to try to give myself like, the Indian summer of my career,” Rose said. “Try to still steal one or two of these to really make it a fantastic career.”

How ’bout a Scottish lad who’s been going through tough times? Who’s chasing better golf scores but something more elusive, too? You might find yourself rooting for Robert MacIntyre, who surged with a bogey-free 66 on Saturday and will play alongside Rose, his Ryder Cup partner, hunting for happiness.

“Everyone knows I’ve been struggling with living in America since January,” said the PGA Tour rookie. “It’s been difficult. I went home there for three weeks. Spent a lot of time with friends and family and everyone that really matters to me, and I came back out wanting to play golf.”

That positive mindset has allowed him to play with a powerful force: acceptance.

“All I can do is try my best and honestly, as much as I try and say it to myself, that’s all I can do is just try my best and see where we end up.”

We can’t wait to see how he does — and where it stacks up with the rest of the field.

There are more contenders, of course, further afield than MacIntyre’s three-shot deficit. Dean Burmester sits four shots back, LIV’s second representative behind DeChambeau. The group at 10 under, five back, includes Justin Thomas, the hometown kid, who on Saturday holed a chip shot that he immediately counted as “one of the coolest moments of my career.”

You could talk yourself into Tony Finau at 10 under, too, or Keegan Bradley at nine under or even McIlroy at eight. Low scores should be on tap, just like they’ve been all week. There will be pressure putts down the stretch. Somebody’s career will change. We just don’t know whose. And when it’s done we’ll wish for more, because major championships matter, and that’s why they’re here and why we are, too.

“I’m pretty bummed that the week is almost over,” Thomas admitted. “Just [gonna] enjoy tomorrow as much as I can and see what happens.”


Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/ The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

Watch, play, win. Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games.

Watch, play, win

Chirp Golf is your home for the best of real money Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and Free-To-Play games. Featuring simple to play. easy to learn, and fun games. Chirp Golf has something for every golf fan.

Scan to Download:

Google Play Apple Store