TULSA, Okla. – Still struggling on his comeback after serious leg injuries in a car accident last year, Tiger Woods withdrew from the PGA Championship.
Woods, a four-time winner of the event, was limping and moving hard on Saturday. Woods fired a 79-pound nine-pointer. After making the cut on Friday, Woods was down 12-over for the tournament, which was the final draw. Saturday’s result was Woods’ highest score in 22 PGA Championship games spanning 81 rounds.
His stagnant gait and deteriorating play were so striking that Woods was later asked if he plans to play in the fourth round on Sunday.
“Well, I’m hungry,” he replied. “I know it’s a fact. We’ll try and see how it goes.”
He did not say whether he would participate in another tournament.
Others struggled in the air.
The PGA Championship was last played at Tulsa’s Southern Hills Country Club in 2007, with temperatures reaching 105 degrees. But this was August in Oklahoma.
The PGA Championship is now in May and the third round of the event on Saturday brought an area discouraged by temperatures in the 50s, high winds and taxing conditions.
With shots made unpredictable by the swirling winds, a group of golfers jockeyed for the lead, including Chile’s unaware Mito Pereira, who commanded against his colleagues mid-round. But second-round leader Will Zalatoris, who finished four times in the top 10 in his last five majors, caught Pereira a few holes later.
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Then came a rising star on the PGA Tour, Cameron Young, and two-time Masters champion, 43-year-old Bubba Watson, who took the lead.
When the game ended on Saturday evening, Pereira, 27, playing in his second major golf championship, confidently, even boldly, regained the top spot on the leaderboard. He will beat England’s Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick by three strokes into Sunday’s final round after the third round of 69.
Pereira skipped the other third-round contenders with consecutive birds on the 13th and 14th holes, after a stumbling block in the middle round. Then, with the 18th green bleachers cheering him on, he closed his day by sinking a 27-foot bird shot to move to the nine-under for the tournament.
While ranked 100th worldwide, Pereira isn’t a known name in professional golf, he finished in the top 20 on the PGA Tour this year three times and won three times on the Korn Ferry Tour, the tour’s minor league circuit.
Zalatoris got off to a bumpy start on Saturday, shooting four out of 39 in the front nine but rebounded by staving off some of his woes to shoot a 73.
Fitzpatrick was five-under for the remainder of his lap to hit 67 after ambushing his first two holes.
Young, whose father is David Young, a longtime golf professional at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in the suburbs of New York, attacked late when he dribbled the green and took a short shot, eagleing the 296-yard par 4 17th hole. With four birds on his round, Young hit 67 and finished fourth in the five-under.
After a brilliant ninth lead, Watson staggered to seven bunkers in Saturday’s lap, staggering 73 shots and tied for seventh place.
Woods’ troubles on Saturday were undoubtedly exacerbated by Tulsa weather conditions. With a tread that has been worked five times, Woods hasn’t enjoyed playing in cold, damp conditions for over a decade as it reduces the flexibility and fluidity of his golf swing. He’s also still adjusting to the changes that need to be made to his game, as he continues to recover from last year’s rolling car accident that shattered several bones in his right leg.
These limitations were fully demonstrated even before Woods took action on Saturday morning, when his reconstructed right leg descended a slope near a training bunker and nearly collapsed into the sand. Woods had to use a golf club and take a quick step with his left leg to stay upright.
When his tour began, it was clear that Woods’ reduced physical abilities would significantly affect his score. The t-shirt he threw in the second hole drifted into a creek, giving rise to a bogey. He recovered by par three, but then failed to hit the 218-yard par 3 sixth hole. By then, Woods was already looking in pain and was having a particularly difficult time hitting his anchors the required distances. A few were not even.
On the sixth hole, his t-shirt was short and stuck, and he fell into the water hazard. After a penalty shootout, his third hit was hard just outside the putting green, and a chip that was supposed to go the next 30 yards traveled only half that distance. Two innings later, Woods had a triple bogey.
He then sunk six of his next seven holes. Woods looked embarrassed and outraged by the alternative, but moved on. Each time the grinder rallied for four pars and a bird on his last five holes to avoid 80 shots.
“I didn’t hit the ball very well and didn’t get to the start where I should have started,” Woods later said. “I thought I had a good shot in 2 hits and fell into the water, and there was never really any momentum on my side.
“I couldn’t get off the bogey train there. Like I said, I didn’t – I didn’t do anything right. I didn’t shoot very well. As a result, I finished with a pretty high score.”