The result of the 103rd PGA Championship looked like a foregone conclusion midway through the third round on Saturday at the Ocean Course on Kiawah Island, but after some classic Phil Mickelson (and Brooks Koepka) theatrics, the leaderboard heading into Sunday is wide open.
Make no mistake, though. Mickelson is the man to beat. The 50-year-old five-time major champ shot a two-under 70 to get to seven under overall, and he leads Koepka, who also shot 70, by one heading into Sunday’s final round. They’ll be in the last pairing as they battle it out for the Wanamaker Trophy.
At one point during the third round, Mickelson etching his name on the Wanamaker for the second time seemed all but certain. With five birdies over the first 10 holes, he had whipped the crowds into a frenzy not seen since the pre-Covid era and held a five-stroke lead.
He was in total control.
A textbook drive and approach into the par-5 11th left Mickelson with a simple up-and-down to reach 11 under for the week — a birdie to put the tournament in a stranglehold and open a commanding six-shot advantage. He hit his pitch just past the hole and faced a putt he’d been holing with ease for most of the week. The crowd was ready to explode.
Then … he missed. Just like that, the wind went out of Mickelson’s sails.
He made a sloppy bogey at the 12th — his first dropped shot in 21 holes — and then promptly duck-hooked his drive into the water at 13. When he two-putted for double bogey, the chasers were right back in it.
Among those chasers was Koepka. The saying goes that death and taxes are the only two certainties in life, but Koepka’s name atop the leaderboard at majors may soon join that list. While Mickelson was eyeing his birdie putt on No. 11 to extend the lead to six, Koepka stood on the 12th fairway ahead. He pulled a wedge and fired his ball onto the green 20 feet from the hole and rolled in the putt.
Then, as Mickelson struggled in the group behind, Koepka didn’t make any mistakes. Pars on 13, 14 and 15 got him within one of the lead as he stepped to the par-5 16th. That’s when Koepka flexed his brawn.
No. 16 might be a par-5, but with a prevailing wind into the players, and a scorecard yardage of 608 yards, birdies have been difficult to come by. Koepka didn’t get the memo. He lasered a drive to the center of the fairway and then hit a towering fairway metal onto the front of the green. Two putts later and two names shared the top of the leaderboard: Mickelson and Koepka.
Mickelson hit some fine shots coming into the clubhouse, but the putter that had been so hot early was suddenly dormant. Nevertheless, pars all the way home after his bogey-double stretch on 12 and 13 secured his two-under 70. That was good enough for a one-shot lead over Koepka, who dropped a shot on the 18th when he couldn’t get up and down for par.
Louis Oosthuizen sits alone in third at five under, and Kevin Streelman is four under and in fourth place. Christiaan Bezuidenhout and Branden Grace are tied at three under.
Sunday may not be the coronation of Mickelson that it once felt like it could be, but if the third round on Kiawah Island taught us anything, it’s that it won’t be without drama.