SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – American golfers could complete a sweep of the four major championships on Sunday. That hasn’t happened since 1982 – but don’t count on it happening this time.
Yes, Jordan Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open and Zach Johnson took the British Open. Though Spieth is in contention again, any thought that an American win in the 99th PGA Championship at Whistling Straits would be premature. It’s at least likely, though, that he will supplant Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings.
The 21-year old Spieth, who missed the cut in his first two PGA appearances in 2013 and 2014, is two strokes behind leader Jason Day, an Australian, and foreigners dominate the leaderboard after that. McIlroy isn’t among the challengers, though, so the change in the rankings seems inevitable.
Day, who played in the last group in the third round after completing the rain-delayed second, stands at 15-under par 201 after shooting 66. Then comes Spieth.
England’s Justin Rose, who won last year’s U.S. Open is one stroke behind Spieth and in a tie with South African Branden Grace who made his own big move by shooting a 64. Germany’s Martin Kaymer, who won the last PGA Championship played at Whistling Straits in 2010, is four back at 205.
As for Spieth, it’s possible he could become the third player to win three of the current majors in the same year, behind Ben Hogan (1953) and Tiger Woods (2000), but he’ll need more of the spectacular golf he played on the back nine on Saturday to do it. He charged up the leaderboard with six birdies to shoot 30 for the nine and 65 for the round.
Spieth has gone 33 holes without a bogey, but he wasn’t much of a factor over the first 45 holes.
“Michael (Greller, his caddie) did a great job keeping me in it,’’ said Spieth. “I was impatient on the front nine. I felt like I was playing some solid golf and was 1-under through 10. I just wasn’t scoring. My score did not reflect the way that I was playing.’’
A birdie putt at No. 11 changed his attitude and another followed at No. 12.
“And we’re off to the races,’’ said Spieth. “The holes started to look bigger. A lot of times it just takes one to go for me to really find that extra confidence, that extra little pop in my stroke. It was nice to get in the zone, and I’m very, very pleased to have a chance to win another major.’’
Not so fast.
The hot nine enabled Spieth to climb the leaderboard quickly, but Day is no slouch. He made the Canadian Open his second win of this season two weeks ago after top-10 finishes in both the U.S. Open and British Open. And, during that hot streak, he endured a bout with vertigo that caused him to pass out during the second round of the U.S. Open.
Day hasn’t won a major championship yet, but he’s due. Spieth, on the other hand, knows what it takes to win the big ones.
“Michael and I both learned from past major championship weekends,’’ said Spieth. “In the majors that we’ve won the putts have fallen on the weekend strictly by just letting it happen. Giving yourself opportunities, believing that it will fall, being stubborn on the greens – that’s what Michael likes to say. So I would draw back on past major weekends as a different type of experience than any other experience you can have.’’
Day wanted more practice time immediately after finishing his round. He discounted the lack of a major title on his resume.
“I’ve been here before, so I kind of know what to expect,’’ he said. “I haven’t won before, so that’s something that is possibly a new experience for me tomorrow. But overall, I’ve just got to rest up as best I can. Rest is important, recovery is very, very important for me and just enjoying tomorrow is my main key.’’
The more seasoned Rose anticipated a change in the weather for the final round.
“I heard it’s going to be windier,’’ he said. “That’s going to allow the chasing pack to maybe have a better chance of making inroads into the lead. It’s always a bit harder playing in the lead when you’ve got heavy winds to contend with as well. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.’’