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It was an up-and-down Saturday at Southern Hills.
TULSA, Okla. — Every Moving Day has its own personality, and Saturday’s at Southern Hills was melancholy. The weather was grey and the course was hard and the big names sputtered while an odd cropping of golfers rose to the top.
The personality of a Moving Day can be found in its sense of triumph and tragedy. As the leaderboard sorts itself out, some dreams approach reality while others fall by the wayside. This one felt especially so. Let’s run through it:
The day’s biggest news is also its worst, so let’s get right to it: It’s unfortunate that Tiger Woods withdrew after Saturday’s third round. On Friday he was celebrated as a hero after making the cut. On Saturday he grimaced his way through a nine-over 79.
It’s not the wrong decision to WD, nor does it mean anything concrete about his future, but it’s sad because of what it represents. The sport’s biggest figure simply isn’t ready for 72-hole golf tournaments. But that was true whether or not he played on Sunday morning.
The day’s best news came from the final pairing. Mito Pereira played the biggest round of his life on Saturday, and he showed up. If the zero-time PGA Tour winner was nervous, he did a pretty good job of hiding it. He played his first seven holes in two under par, giving him a four-shot lead as his competition stumbled. He played his next five holes in four over par, though, bringing him back to the field. He rallied with three birdies from 13 on in, including a 27-footer at No. 18 to post a rock-solid 69. Respect.
Sigh. Rory McIlroy’s Thursday round of five-under 65 is now officially ancient history. He began Saturday at four under par, in prime position to make a charge at the lead. But suddenly he went double bogey-bogey-bogey at 6-7-8 to drop to even par, ten shots off the pace.
Still, a back-nine charge wasn’t out of the question, particularly after a birdie on No. 9. But he missed left of the flag at the par-3 11th, committing one of Southern Hills’ cardinal sins, and things only got worse from there. McIlroy walked off the 11th with a triple-bogey six. He’s nine back now and, well, it doesn’t look good.
When the going gets tough, Matt Fitzpatrick is usually lurking somewhere. And even though he faltered off the start with bogeys at No. 1 and No. 2, he logged six birdies against just a single bogey the rest of the way to climb into a share of second place. What’s left? A spot in the final pairing alongside Pereira, and a chance to change his entire career.
Saturday began with McIlroy and Justin Thomas as the biggest names on the leaderboard who’d actually done it before. But neither of their rounds ever really got started. Thomas looked out of sorts with his irons, struggling to get proper looks at birdie en route to a 74 that matched McIlroy. Now he’s seven shots back, though only four back of second place. He’s not out of it, but he didn’t look in it on Saturday.
The low round of the delay belonged to one Webb Simpson, all thanks to his final seven holes. He played those in five under including a birdie-eagle-birdie stretch from 12-14 that catapulted him from T64 into a share of 10th. If he just shoots another one tomorrow, he’ll make things interesting…
Thirty-six hole leader Will Zalatoris came out of the gates a little sketchy, making bogey on four of his first seven holes to go from one shot up to five shots back. His putter, which had been best in the field through two rounds, suddenly turned balky, costing him 2.9 shots on Saturday’s front nine alone. Credit where it’s due, though: Zalatoris rallied with a back-nine 34 that has him in a share of second, right where he needs to be.
That would be Cameron Young, who sits in fourth place after a rousing 67 in which he demonstrated impeccable touch on the greens. His eagle putt at No. 17 put the finishing touches on a round that singlehandedly brought him into contention. If you don’t know Young, you will soon: He’s the early favorite for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year and owns three runner-up finishes this season already.
The back nine played nearly 1.5 shots easier and most contenders took advantage — but not Bubba Watson, whose back-nine 39 sent him from second to seventh.
Nobody can match 50-year-old Phil Mickelson’s victory from last year, but Stewart Cink turned 49 on Saturday and celebrated with a back-nine 34.
“Surely I was inspired by seeing what Phil did and that he hung in there and that he was himself and just made it happen,” Cink said.
A stable of big-name golfers shot high numbers to fade from contention, including Collin Morikawa (74), Jordan Spieth (74), Tony Finau (74), Viktor Hovland (75), and Jon Rahm (76).
It is called Moving Day, after all. And for some players to move up, others have to go the opposite direction.
Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.
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