Mito Pereira battles through tough stretch to grab lead at PGA Championship

TULSA, Okla. — Mito Pereira looked as if he were about to run away and hide with the Wannamaker Trophy as the 104th PGA Championship winner.

The 27-year-old from Chile, playing in only his second career major championship, had just birdied his second hole of the front nine during the third round Saturday at Southern Hills Country Club. He was 10-under and had opened up a five-shot lead.

Then the reality that he was playing in only his second career major and was on the edge of changing his life set in.

Pereira blinked.

He promptly bogeyed three consecutive holes and four of five and went from 10-under to 6-under and, in the process, brought many players back into contention.

Pereira wobbled, but he didn’t fall down.

He responded to his stumble with two massive birdies on Nos. 13 and 14 to get himself back to 8-under for the tournament the cushion his lead. Then he birdied 18 to get to 9-under to put an exclamation point on his day.

“I was playing really good and suddenly I made four bogeys in five holes,’’ Pereira said. “It was a tough place to be at that moment. [I’m] really happy how I ended up playing. The birdie on 18 was a bonus. Just happy to be in this position.

“It’s by far the biggest tournament I’ve played, the biggest round of golf, and [Sunday] is going to be even bigger.’’

Pereira, who played college golf at Texas Tech, finished with a 1-under- 69 to take a three-shot lead into the final round Sunday.

Matt Fitzpatrick, with a spirited late rally to 3-under 67 in the third round, is three shots back at 6-under along with Will Zalatoris, who went backward in his third round, shooting 3-over 73.

golf, sports, pga, pga championship, pga tour, mito pereira battles through tough stretch to grab lead at pga championship

Matthew Fitzpatrick of England plays his second shot on the 15th hole during the third round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 21, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Cameron Young, who grew up in Westchester County playing Sleepy Hollow Country Club with his father, David, the longtime director of golf there, is four shots off the lead at 5-under after shooting 67 on Saturday.

Abraham Ancer, from Mexico, is five shots back at 4-under. Ireland’s Seamus Power is six back at 3-under. Stewart Cink, who turned 49 on Saturday, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson are all seven back at 2-under.

On a day when one of the least experienced players in the field made the biggest move, the third-round performances of Thomas and Watson, along with Rory McIlroy, were most surprising. All three former major winners went backward instead of seizing opportunity on moving day.

Watson hardly validated the second-round 63 he posted on Friday to vault into contention, sagging to 73 Saturday. Thomas, the 2017 PGA winner, followed his pair of 67s in the first two rounds with a thoroughly disappointing 74.

McIlroy, who hasn’t won a major championship since 2014, had a miserable day, shooting 74 and tumbling from contention to even-par and nine shots out of the lead. At one point, after a triple bogey on the par-3 11th hole, McIlroy was 6-over for his round and 2-over for the week.

Neither Thomas nor McIlroy was available for comment after their rounds. Zalatoris was, and he was insistent on staying the course one day after shooting a nearly flawless, bogey-free second-round 65.

golf, sports, pga, pga championship, pga tour, mito pereira battles through tough stretch to grab lead at pga championship

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the 16th hole during the third round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 21, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

“I’ve got nothing to lose,’’ Zalatoris said. “I know Mito played an incredible round today. You’ve got to go out and get it. Everybody’s got to go out and earn it. Keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully it adds up to the lowest score.”

“I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up around Lanny Wadkins and Lee Trevino and obviously those guys are major champions. Scottie [Scheffler] and Jordan [Spieth] as well. Just stick to my game. Got nothing to lose [Sunday]. I know I’m playing some really good golf, and hopefully at the end of the day it adds up to the lower score.’’

Fitzpatrick, who said he believes he has a score to settle in the majors, has played in 28 of them and has only one top-10 to show for it.

“I’ve spoke about it with my coaches at length about my major record,’’ he said. “You know, I’ve always just said to them, I just want to give myself a chance. If you really look, I’ve not had that many chances to win. I’m more just looking forward to it more than anything.’’

Ancer, who played college golf at the University of Oklahoma, has had a lot of local support this week. He, too, has been unfazed by the crazy swings in the weather, from oppressive heat to high winds to the temperature drop into the 50s on Saturday.

“I feel like in my college career we played in anything, all sorts of weather,’’ he said. “I enjoy the wind and I feel like where I grew up and in junior college in Norman it was windy as well. The wind brings great challenge especially on this golf course where you have to be really precise.”

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