Watson closes to PGA Championship lead before late fade


Tulsa, Oklahoma (AP) — It’s been a long time since Bubba Watson took on the PGA Championship. And he was there for a while on Saturday.

In the top and bottom three rounds in the stormy Southern Hills, Watson got closer to the lead as he struggled to find fairways and greens in the late nines. A sharp putter with 63 on Saturday blunted the back stretch.

Still, the 3-over-par 73 was enough to get the 43-year-old into the sights of the youth movement leading the championship to Sunday’s finals. But if it wasn’t for a very loose swing in the late afternoon, he could have been literally within contact distance from his first tee.

He will start the final round in T-7, seven shots behind 27-year-old rookie leader Mito Pereira.

“Yesterday I made them all and today I missed them in a hundred nines,” Watson said of the one inch difference in putting strokes on Saturday. “I wish I could go in. That might be the problem. Instead of petting him, he could have made a wish.”

The buttoned lefty hasn’t won a major since the 2014 Masters, and hasn’t won any tournament since 2018. His record on the PGA has been dismal after losing in the 2010 playoffs to the Whistling Straits. His best finish over the past 12 years is tied for 21st and has missed the cut four times.

Watson can still count on career experience on Sunday when the pressures start to grow. His 12 career wins on the PGA Tour, including two masters, surpass anything the six players in front of him have accomplished. Of these, the top six teams have won the PGA Tour twice and Europe eight times.

“I’m sure I’ve done it before, but these guys are really good,” Watson said. “One ball bounces, hits a tree, bounces to the fairway, chip shot, and puts it into the hole from the bunker. It’s not like anyone has more than you. It’s just taking a break at the right time.”

The pressure seemed to affect Pereira as Pereira spread out 4 bogeys on 5 holes. This allowed Watson to get a lead in less than one stroke. But he couldn’t fill his last void.

Pereira took a seat and finished off with a flurry. Watson bogeyed on the 10th hole and dropped three more shots in the last four holes, steadily sliding down the top of the leaderboard.

Watson jumped into the mix on Friday, scoring 63, the lowest score in PGA Championship history. The previous two, raised in the Southern Hills by Raymond Floyd in 1982 and Tiger Woods in 2007, they climbed the Wanamaker Trophy lift.

Those large silver cups will look great next to a pair of green jackets.

“Just because I hit 63 doesn’t mean you win,” Watson said.

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