LOUISVILLE, Ky. — If you missed Saturday’s telecast of the PGA Championship, you missed birdies. Tons of birdies. A rain-softened Valhalla was vulnerable, and from the morning groups to the final tee time, red numbers were posted all over the leaderboard. While Sunday’s frontrunners pack plenty of starpower, here’s what you need to know as we enter what should be a wild ride to the end of the 2014 major season.
1. McIlroy will sleep on the 54-hole lead at his second-straight major and for the fifth time in his career. He’s won three of those five (2011 U.S. Open, 2012 PGA and 2014 British Open) and memorably choked away a four-shot lead at the 2011 Masters en route to a final round 80. And if you thought McIlroy chose to forget about that round, he didn’t. Instead, he uses it as a cautionary tale. Before Saturday’s third round, McIlroy said, “I went protection mode once in my career, and it was the 2011 Masters. That didn't work out very well. So I said to myself, I'll never do that again.” McIlroy sits at 13-under with a one stroke lead. If that sounds familiar, it is. Tiger Woods entered the final round at Valhalla in the 2000 PGA Championship at 13-under with a one stroke lead.
2. Phil Mickelson went on a birdie tear to close out Saturday’s third round. After back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 11 and 12, Mickelson birdied Nos. 14, 15, 16 and 18 to surge to 10-under for the tournament, three strokes behind McIlroy. Mickelson, 44, will play with Rickie Fowler, 25, on Sunday, in what should be a mutually comfortable pairing. Mickelson and Fowler have a history of playing practice rounds together before tournaments, and Mickelson has taken Fowler under his wing. At this year’s British Open, Fowler said, “I've learned a lot from Phil. He's kind of been — hate to say it — but like a dad out here. I'm sure he doesn't like hearing that, but he knows he's a little older than I am. And seeing how he operates on and off the golf course, how he treats his fans. He's very well respected. So I want to try and be like him.” Fowler will have a chance to go head to head with his “adopted dad” on Sunday.
3. Fowler currently sits alone in third place. If he finishes in the top-5 at the PGA Championship, he’ll be the third player to finish in the top-5 in all four majors in a single season year, joining Tiger Woods (2000 and 2005) and Jack Nicklaus (1971 and 1973). He's currently played 27 holes without a bogey.
4. It’s only the third time in 89 major appearances that Phil Mickelson has managed to shoot the first three rounds in the 60s (69, 67, 67). The other instances? Both occurred in 2001 when he finished third at the Masters and second in the PGA Championship.
5. In June, Bernd Wiesberger because the first Austrian the play in the U.S. Open, though he missed the cut. Wiesberger has played in five majors in his career, and he’s missed the cut in four. His best finish was a tie for 63rd in the 2013 British Open at Muirfield. Wiesberger will tee off with Rory McIlroy in the final group Sunday. Hey, someone has to play the Bob May role! Before this week, Weisberger had never broken par in a round at a major. Currently, he’s got three rounds in the 60s at Valhalla (68, 68, 65).
6. The low round of the day belonged to both Hunter Mahan and Wiesberger with 65s, tying the low round of the tournament. Mahan jumped up 25 spots into a tie for 13th while Wiesberger played his way into the final pairing with Rory McIlroy thanks to three consecutive birdies to end his third round. Saturday saw the most rounds in the 60s all week.
7. Twelve players are within five shots of the lead entering Sunday’s final round. Only three of those 12 players have won majors (McIlroy, Mickelson and Oosthuizen). The final pairings are: McIlroy/Wiesbeger (2:55 p.m.), Fowler/Mickelson (2:45 p.m.), Day/Oosthuizen (2:35 p.m.), Stenson/Ilonen (2:25 p.m.) Palmer/Donaldson (2:15 p.m.) and DeLaet/Stricker (2:05 p.m.).
8. Louis Oosthuizen has played in five PGA Championships and has missed the cut three times. He’s currently tied for sixth after shooting his second straight 67, which put him at 9-under entering Sunday’s final round. If he wins, the sweet-swinging South African will be the first player to win the Long Drive Contest (Oosty bombed it 340 yards on Tuesday to win the title) and the PGA Championship since Jack Nicklaus did in 1963.
9. No. 16 at Valhalla ranks as the third toughest hole of the tournament. The 508-yard par-4 has yielded almost as many double-bogeys (22) as birdies (30). For Sunday’s round, fans chose the pin location, and with 51 percent of the vote, the pin location will be back left and tucked over a small bunker. You might remember No. 16 as the hole where Tiger Woods and his finger memorably walked in his long birdie putt during his 2000 playoff with Bob May.
10. Valhalla avoided heavy showers on Saturday, which was fortunate because the course was soaked and muddy from Friday's rains. Sunday's forecast doesn't look quite as good. Scattered showers will be in the area overnight, and thunderstorms may hit Louisville Sunday afternoon.