PGA Championship 2017: Golfers most likely to catch 54-hole leader Kisner
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The 2017 PGA Championship turned ugly in Saturday’s third round as the scores soared alongside the heat index at Quail Hollow Club. While big names came up wanting, though, 36-hole co-leader Kevin Kisner hung tough with an 1-over 72; at 7 under he leads by one over Chris Stroud and Hideki Matsuyama going into Sunday.
That’s new territory for Kisner, who had never even held the 36-hole lead at a major until this week. His best finish at a major is T12 at the 2015 U.S. Open. He’s hung tough, though, and ranks in the top five in the field this week in both strokes gained tee to green and strokes gained putting.
Of course, he also played the final three holes in 3 over when he had a chance to run away and hide at this event. What that means is that he’s let a host of golfers back into the tournament who thought they were probably dead in the water.
With 18 holes left and the way players finished on Saturday, I’m convinced anything could happen. Kisner has a ton of company just behind him. In fact, five of the top 20 players in the world are within seven strokes of the lead. Let’s take a look at who could run down the leader on Sunday at Quail Hollow.
Chris Stroud (6 under): Stroud’s best finish is T47 at the 2010 U.S. Open. He’s only ever played in eight of these, and he’s missed the cut in six of them. He would be the lowest-ranked golfer to ever win the PGA Championship, and I think I’m only including him because he’s going to be in the final group on Sunday.
Hideki Matsuyama (6 under): I have some Matsuyama stats. Namely, that his 73 on Saturday was exactly on brand for what he’s done in the major championships this year (see below). The upshot of that is that he’s always rebounded (or fallen) off with the opposite score on Sunday of the majors. If form holds, that would mean we get a 69 or better from Matsuyama on Sunday which might be enough to win.
Louis Oosthuizen (5 under): Oosthuizen is a wild card for me. I don’t really know what I’m getting on Sunday. He’s a major champion, but he’s also No. 134 on the PGA Tour in final round scoring average. He battled through a wrist injury on Saturday after hitting a tree to post an even-par 71, but this just isn’t feeling like a Louis Oosthuizen major championship.
Justin Thomas (5 under): This is, however, starting to feel like a Justin Thomas major championship. Thomas is just sitting back there lurking while nobody’s paying attention. He could extend the streak of elite-level major winners if he plays on Sunday like he did on Saturday. I followed his group for most of the day on Saturday, and he was hitting some really high quality shots coming home despite not hitting a ton of fairways (6/14).
“That’s what Tiger did so well,” said Thomas. “He won tournaments by five or six with his B game or C game. It’s about managing it around here, trying to get it around. What I did today was definitely a confidence boost. It’s not the same as playing great. I’m definitely more tired than if I would have played great. I will definitely take it.”
He didn’t make a bogey after the sixth hole and saved his momentum several times from poor positions off the tee. If he gets the driver cranked up on Sunday, it could be his first big one.
Patrick Reed (2 under): Reed still does not have a top 10 at a major championship, but he’s been nails this week. Unfortunately for him this is not a team exhibition event with nothing but his nation’s pride on the line. Maybe the PGA of America can pull some strings overnight, though.
Rickie Fowler (1 under): Fowler had it to 5 under at one point, but he played the final three holes in 4 over. He’ll need a herculean effort to leapfrog the 11 players in front of him and hoist his first major championship trophy.
Jason Day (E): Day fully ejected on the 18th hole on Sunday with a quadruple bogey that saw him all over the park. Par at the last, and he would be just three back trying to win his second PGA Championship in the last three years. Instead, it’s going to take a miracle for him to catch Kisner.