LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Two-time Masters Tournament champion Jose Maria Olazabal shattered the course record Saturday at Valhalla Golf Club.
Olazabal shot a 9-under 63, vaulting the Spaniard into contention at the 82nd PGA Championship. His score bested the record of 65 that was set in 1996 by Russ Cochran. Earlier in the day, Tom Watson shot a 65 to briefly share the record. And Thomson native Franklin Langham, playing in the group behind Olazabal, also shot 65 on Saturday.
"When I started, I was just looking to find more or less the same game as I had yesterday," said Olazabal, who was even par through 36 holes. "I tried to score well. And, obviously, as the round went on I liked my chances a little better."
Olazabal made four birdies on the front nine. Then, on the back nine, he made five more to cap his round.
Larger than normal landing areas for tee shots, a trademark of Jack Nicklaus designs, helped Olazabal.
"That is also up to the PGA," Olazabal said of the fairways. "They could have really narrowed the fairways like the U.S. Open and this golf course would have been, you know, a nightmare. But obviously having a little bit more room off the tee, you know, it helps my game."
Olazabal matched the lowest score ever shot in any of the four majors. He joined an elite group that includes Nicklaus, Ray Floyd, Gary Player, Vijay Singh, Nick Price, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo and the late Payne Stewart, among others.
"I went for the flag and just hit it a couple of yards right off it," Olazabal said of his play on the par-5 18th. "From there just to make two putts, it was good enough."
Watson reached into his bag of tricks Saturday to briefly match the course record at Valhalla Golf Club. Watson's 65 left him at 5-under 211 through three rounds.
The PGA is the only major Watson hasn't won. A two-time Masters champion, Watson also won the 1982 U.S. Open and has five British Open triumphs to his credit.
"It wasn't real pretty to look at from a ball-striking standpoint," Watson said. "But from the putting standpoint, it was beautiful. I had the feel today, and that is the reason I shot a 65."
The 50-year-old Watson made nine birdies and two bogeys Saturday. In 27 PGA appearances, his best finish was second in 1978.
"I don't play `what if,"' Watson said. "Winning the PGA was certainly my number one goal for many, many years since I had not won it. As I say, I don't look back on it."
PGA GRAND SLAM:
Ernie Els has clinched a berth in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, set for Nov. 21-22 at Poipu Bay Golf Course in Hawaii.
Els, second in all three of this year's majors coming into the PGA, will join Masters champ Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods in the event. Woods, of course, won the U.S. Open and British Open this summer.
The elite event's premise is to match the winners of the four majors against each other in a match-play format.
Should Woods win this week's PGA, Paul Azinger has the best shot at rounding out the four-man field. With 169 points, Azinger would need to finish in 37th place or better to overtake Tom Lehman (205.5), who withdrew this week.
Nick Faldo, Steve Jones, Davis Love III and Justin Leonard also are in the running for the final alternate berth.
NEW PLAYOFF FORMAT:
Should a playoff be necessary to decide this week's tournament, the PGA of America will implement a new system.
Instead of sudden death, a three-hole cumulative score playoff will break the deadlock. If the players are tied after three holes, then sudden death will be used to determine the winner.
"The new playoff system will provide a fair test for PGA Championship competitors," said Will Mann, PGA of America president. "All golfers involved in a playoff will have the opportunity to post the best score, eliminating the element of luck that can occur in a sudden-death playoff.
With the change this year, all of golf's majors have different methods of breaking ties. The U.S. Open uses an 18-hole format and the British Open uses a four-hole playoff. The Masters is the only major to use sudden death to settle ties.
Eleven golfers have shot all four rounds in the 60s in a PGA. The last time it was done was in 1995, when five golfers, including winner Steve Elkington, turned the trick ... Hard to believe, but Scotland's Tommy Armour was the last European to win the PGA, doing so in 1930 at Fresh Meadows Country Club in Flushing, N.Y. ... International players, however, won this event five times in the 1990s. Wayne Grady, Price (twice), Elkington and Singh were the men who did it ... Nicklaus and Lee Trevino came the closest to defending their PGA titles since the event switched to stroke play. Both finished second, with Nicklaus doing it in 1964 and '74 and Trevino in '85.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or email@example.com.
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