SHEBOYGAN, Wis. The third round of the 2010 PGA Championship may be remembered for what didn't happen as much as for what did happen.
What didn't happen? Tiger Woods didn't charge into contention. Despite a nice rally while finishing his fog-delayed second round in the morning, Woods will conclude the year's final major without having a say in the outcome. He is in 31st place, 10 shots back. Woods fell so far so fast, with three bogeys on the front nine of the third round, that CBS quit showing his shots.
"No matter how good you hit it, you've still got to make putts," Woods said. "I didn't do that today."
What else didn't happen? Phil Mickelson didn't play his way into contention, either. He was hoping for a repeat of the 10-under-par weekend that won him this year's Masters, but to do that he's going to need an 11-under-par Sunday. Mickelson shot 73 on Saturday and fell to 48th place. The signs weren't good right from the start, when he left himself a flip wedge approach on his opening hole, No. 10, but botched it, missing the green short and left.
Another thing that didn't happen: Whistling Straits failed to live up to its name. The course turned nasty late Friday afternoon, with whipping winds causing scores to suffer. The rain predicted for Saturday never materialized, however, and the wind didn't whistle (or even so much as hum a few bars). Earlier this week it looked as though nine under par might be good enough to win this PGA, but by Saturday evening, as Lake Michigan glistened in the summer sun, three players finished double digits under par and one Wenchong Liang, of China posted a course-record 64. Soft fairways, soft greens and no wind add up to low scores.
"The course is the easiest I have seen it," said England's Paul Casey. "It is there for the taking, as Nick Watney has shown."
What did happen on Saturday was memorable, too.
Nick Watney took control of this championship with a scintillating run. The former Fresno State star and two-time PGA Tour winner raced into the lead with five birdies in the first seven holes. He added three more on the back nine to shoot 66 and push his total to 13 under par despite a bogey on the final hole. Watney owns a three-shot lead over Dustin Johnson, your U.S. Open meltdown story, and Rory McIlroy, the boy wonder from Northern Ireland. There is a three-way tie for third at nine under.
Elsewhere, Liang, the first Chinese player to win the Asian Tour money title, played a flawless round with eight birdies and no bogeys; he vaulted into a tie for fourth, four shots back. "After I made the cut yesterday, I felt much more relaxed," Liang said. "So that started building the confidence. The driving and putting went very well, so it makes the whole round very good."
Liang once shot 60 in an Asian Tour event but said this performance was special because it's a major and, he added, "It makes people realize there are actually professional golfers in China. So this is a very special round."
Golf's youth movement made a serious statement on Saturday, too. Five of the top seven players are in their 20s: Watney (29), Johnson (26), McIlroy (21), Jason Day (22), and Martin Kaymer (25).
"The younger guys have been playing well all year, so it's not a shock to anyone," said Johnson. "We have contended in a lot of tournaments. We have won a lot of tournaments. So being a major, yes, this will be a little different, but not too much different than a regular tour event. Tomorrow is going to be a good show. You're going to have to go out and be somewhat aggressive, especially being a few shots back. But if you hit some good shots and make some putts early, you never know what's going to happen."
The old guard isn't completely missing in action. Forty-year-old Jim Furyk and 47-year-old Steve Elkington, the 1995 PGA Championship winner, are tied for seventh at eight under. The best senior moment on Saturday belonged to Tom Lehman, who is in the field after winning the Senior PGA Championship. Lehman made the video highlights with an ace at the par-3 17th hole and celebrated by high-fiving fans as he jogged along the gallery ropes.
The spotlight now turns to Sunday's finish, and it will be focused primarily on Watney. A three-shot lead is hardly safe in the final round of a major championship. Dustin Johnson is proof of that, if you recall his triple bogey at the second hole of the U.S. Open's final round, which led to an 82. This time, Johnson isn't the one with the tournament in his hands. That's Watney. He's got some experience, having won in New Orleans and at Torrey Pines. But if he falters, this event will burst wide open. Fifteen players are bunched between six under and 10 under.
Watney could put away his first major title with another run like the one he enjoyed Saturday afternoon, when he rolled in putt after putt. He shot 32 on the front nine, despite a bogey at the eighth, and added three more birdies on the back. The only ray of hope for the field was his bogey at the par-4 18th hole, where he has failed to hit the fairway or the green in regulation in three tries.
Johnson knows exactly what pressure Watney is going to be feeling with Sunday's lead. "It's going to be a long day," Johnson said. "You've got to stay patient. I think maybe I got a little impatient at Pebble Beach, started moving a little too fast. Tomorrow, I'm really going to focus on being patient and hitting quality shots. Any time you've been in that situation and kind of know what to expect, you've got a leg up on the other people because not everyone's been in the lead of a major. So I'm pretty confident and I'm playing well. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
Said McIlroy, "At Pebble Beach, Dustin got off to a very shaky start and Graeme McDowell had the lead nearly fall into his lap a little bit. You're going to have to make a few birdies out here. The course played very, very soft. So I'm not going to go out and be overly aggressive and be stupid, but you're going to have to give yourself plenty of chances if you want to take the lead off Nick, because he's obviously playing very well and doesn't look like he's going to let it go too easily."
Watney piled up a slew of birdies in the third round and needed only 25 putts. He lost a small piece of his lead at the 18th, where he drove it poorly and laid up in the left rough. He played conservatively from there and settled for a two-putt from 40 feet for bogey.\n
"I was spot on with my wedges and my putting," Watney said. "As far as tomorrow, I'm really looking forward to it. I think it's going to be fun. I can only control what I do. The nature of this golf course is there are train wrecks everywhere. So every hole is pivotal. "