Tulsa: Chile’s Mito Pereira sank a 27-foot birdie putt at the par-4 18th hole to seize a three-stroke lead after Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship.
But with the leaderboard’s top six each seeking a first major title and a trio of major winners just behind them, the scene was set for a Sunday showdown at Southern Hills.
Pereira, making only his second major start, fired a one-under-par 69 to finish 54 holes on nine-under 201. He’s the first player to hold an outright 54-hole lead in his PGA debut since winner John Daly in 1991.
“Really happy how I ended up playing,” Pereira said. “The birdie on 18 was a bonus. Just happy to be in this position.”
England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick and American Will Zalatoris shared second on 204, one stroke ahead of American Cameron Young with Mexico’s Abraham Ancer fifth on 206 and Irishman Seamus Power sixth on 207.
Only Ancer and Power has ever won US PGA Tour titles. But Fitzpatrick, never better than seventh in 27 prior major starts, has won seven times on the DP World Tour.
“I’ve put myself in a lot of winning positions in Europe,” Fitzpatrick said. “Having that experience, it bodes well. Winning in Europe will definitely help.”
The top major winners in the hunt were Americans Bubba Watson, Justin Thomas and Stewart Cink, who shared seventh on 208, seven adrift of Pereira.
No one has ever rallied from more than seven strokes back in the last round to win the PGA.
“You’ve got to keep on going and grinding,” Cink said after shooting 71 on his 49th bithday. “Just as important to win the attitude contest as it is the chipping and putting contest.”
Pereira, who missed the cut at the 2019 US Open in his only prior major, had a roller-coaster round.
The 27-year-old US tour rookie from Santiago became the first Chilean to lead a major after birdies at the second and par-5 fifth, but made four bogeys in a five-hole stretch starting at the par-3 eighth, then closed with three birdies in his last six holes.
“I was playing really good and suddenly I made four bogeys in five holes. It was a tough place to be at that moment,” he said. “But just found myself from 13 on.”
Fitzpatrick opened with two bogeys but closed with back-to-back birdies to shoot 67. He and last-pair partner Pereira are the only players to break par in every round so far.
Missed the cut
“I was really pleased with my round,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was just so proud of myself after my start to get it back.”
Young, a 25-year-old US PGA Tour rookie with three runner-up finishes this season, missed the cut in three prior major starts.
But he rolled in an electrifying 24-foot eagle putt at the par-4 17th and shot 67 to serve notice he’s a threat to win the Wanamaker Trophy.
“With my parents here, it would be pretty incredible,” Young said. “It would be something I wouldn’t forget forever.”
Zalatoris, last year’s Masters runner-up, began with a one-stroke lead but had four bogeys in his first seven holes in shooting 73.
“It was brutal out there,” he said. “I was pretty frustrated.”
Ancer, five back, likes his chances after a par-70 round.
“I’m definitely in striking distance,” Ancer said. “We just have to play some flawless golf tomorrow.”
In the hunt
Power made four birdies in the last seven holes to leap into the hunt.
“Whoever is going to win it is going to earn it,” Power said. “I’m going out a little before the leaders. If I can get a couple birdies on the card, it can make the world of difference.”
Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, the 18-hole leader after a 65, shot 74 to fall into a pack on 210.
Three-time major winner Jordan Spieth, needing a victory to complete a career Grand Slam, stumbled to a 74 to slide well back on 215.
Second-ranked Jon Rahm, the reigning US Open champion from Spain who with a win would become world number one, struggled to a 76 to stand on 218.