Dark clouds seem to have followed Woods on the weekend at majors this year. On Saturday at Kiawah Island, they might have saved him.
Facing a 7-foot putt to avoid another bogey, the darkening sky crackled with thunder and play was suspended with 26 players having to return for a marathon finish today. That might be good news for Woods, not so much for Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy raced to the top of the leaderboard, and not even a tee shot that lodged into a tree on the third hole could slow him. Once he finally found it stuck in a rotted section of a thick limb, he took a penalty drop and drilled his wedge to 6 feet to save par.
He went out in 32 after a bogey on the ninth hole and was at 6-under par, tied with Vijay Singh, who was on the par-3 eighth hole.
“It’s nice going into the final day – hopefully, if we get it finished – in a great position,” McIlroy said. “And it being 27 holes, I definitely don’t mind. I don’t mind if it takes a while to get done.”
Singh started and finished his short day with birdies – an 18-foot putt on the first, and a 25-foot putt on the par-5 seventh. Right behind was Adam Scott, who was three shots out of the lead when the third round began and cruising along with pars until four birdies on the last five holes of the front nine.
“Right now I am in good position,” Scott said. “Unfortunate not to continue because I was on a little bit of a run.”
About the only players disappointed to see the windswept third round end were the players who had already finished – Bo Van Pelt (67) at 3-under 213, Steve Stricker (67) at 2-under 214, Padraig Harrington (69) another shot behind.
“I got off to a rough start today and couldn’t get anything going,” Woods said through a spokesman. “I’ll come back tomorrow morning and see what happens. There are a lot of holes left to play.”
He failed to birdie the par-5 second hole when he tugged his approach into the back bunker and only blasted out to 20 feet. The real damage came on the third hole, the one that saved McIlroy. Woods hit a wedge into 4 feet, and his birdie putt raced by the edge of the cup.
It unraveled after that. He hit a spectator with his tee shot at No. 4, signing a glove for the fan, went over the green and muffed a difficult chip. Woods had to make a 4-foot bogey putt, and then hit another low hook that led to bogey on the fifth.
He started the third round tied for the lead with Singh and Carl Pettersson at 4-under 140. Seven holes into the third round, Woods already was five shots behind. It was starting to look familiar to Woods, who has yet to break par on the weekend at a major this year. This was the second time this year Woods had a share of the 36-hole lead going into weekend at the majors. He is 13-over par in his six weekend rounds at majors, including a 75-73 finish at Olympic Club to go from a tie for the lead to a tie for 21st in the U.S. Open.
The 26 players who didn’t finish the round will return Sunday morning. The final round was to be played in threesomes of both tees, rare for a major championship.
Singh, the 49-year-old who has not been in contention at a major in six years, opened with a 15-foot birdie putt and made a strong recovery from trouble on the par-5 seventh by making a 25-foot putt to join McIlroy atop the leaderboard.
Pettersson was at 4 under through eight holes.
Stopping play might be the best thing that happened to Woods – and a tough break for those who finished.
“You never know what the weather will be like when they go back out,” said Van Pelt, the clubhouse leader. “So they might get the good end of it or the bad end of it. To me, just glad to be done. I did what I could do, and I’m sure before I go to bed tonight I’ll know kind of where I stand going into tomorrow.”
It’s the first time since 2008 that the PGA Championship didn’t complete three rounds on Saturday. Some players had to go 36 holes on the final day that year, and Padraig Harrington wound up winning his second straight major.
“Unfortunately, the weather gods turned against us today,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s managing director of championships.
Harrington might be in the picture again, depending on how the rest of the field fares Sunday morning. He was 4 under on his round until a double bogey on the 10th hole, though that was his only big mistakes and he wound up with 69. Harrington was at 1-under 215.
“I would rather it just stayed the way it was,” Harrington said about the weather. “Who knows what’s going to happen now? … It could be a good break, but it could be a bad break. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out. But would have settled for the guys to play the same conditions we played and have them play the back nine in the wind, because the back nine was a lot tougher than the front nine.”
McIlroy opened with a 15-foot birdie putt, followed with a long two-putt birdie on the par-5 second, and then the adventure began. His tee shot dropped out of the sky and into a crevice in the thick limb that appeared to be dying.
“I know the line of the ball was right on the tree,” McIlroy said. “We’d been looking for it for maybe about three minutes and then one of the guys that was working for TV came over and said, ‘You know, it’s actually stuck in the tree.’ I’m like, ‘How can it be stuck in this thing? There’s no branches, no leaves for it to be stuck in. But it had wedged itself in between the tree bark and the actual tree.
“I was just happy to get it up-and-down for 4 and move on to the next,” McIlroy said.
The next hole was just as good, though not as dramatic, when he holed a 15-foot putt for par, and then he hit his tee shot to about 5 feet on the par-3 fifth hole.
Stricker, trying to earn his way onto the Ryder Cup team, brought a chance at his first major championship into the picture when he ran off five birdies in a seven-hole stretch around the turn before missing a short putt on the 13th for his lone bogey. He finished with a birdie.
Trevor Immelman was 3 under through 10 holes, while Graeme McDowell remains poised to contend in a third straight major. He was at 2 under through 11 holes, and then ducked into the clubhouse to avoid the pounding rain. Players checked the weather on their phones, and saw nothing but bad weather.
“Disappointing,” McDowell said. “We’ve done well this week to avoid the storms that are pretty inevitable in this part of the country this time of the year.”
And it was slightly disappointing to have to stop, especially for those chasing.
“It was a great test of golf out there this afternoon, a nice 50 mph breeze to keep everyone honest,” he said. “We’ll see how conditions are in the morning.”