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One hole on Saturday changed the complexion of Sunday at the 2024 PGA Championship

One hole on Saturday changed the complexion of Sunday at the 2024 PGA Championship

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – They were coming for him, just as Xander Schauffele predicted. After his opening 62 at this PGA Championship, Schauffele knew that there was “blood in the water” – and that proved prophetic, as now they were lined up for him, five, six, seven players deep, all going low at soft, scoreable Valhalla.

Schauffele had struggled to maintain that same torrid pace, but he’d finally given himself a two-shot cushion after rolling in a 30-footer for birdie on the 14th hole.

Now, he was in the fairway on 15, 162 yards away, and ready to attack.

Schauffele and caddie Austin Keiser huddled to discuss the wind. It was swirling. Schauffele thought the shot was into the wind, but the flags around him showed that it was helping. Trying to split the difference, he hit a soft, low, drawing 9-iron, but he came over the top and tugged it slightly.

“I didn’t feel like I was trying to hit it hard,” he said. “I have no idea how it went that far, to be completely honest.”

But it was a misfire nonetheless. Only his second missed green of the round, Schauffele’s approach bounced over the green and disappeared in ankle-high fescue – a spot of bother further complicated by the looming pond on the other side.

“If there wasn’t a hazard over the green, I probably would have swung a lot harder,” he said. But instead, he decelerated on his three-quarter swing, advancing his ball just 9 feet in front of him. “I just couldn’t get myself to swing at it.”

Schauffele drew a better lie in the trampled-down rough for his fourth shot, but this one didn’t come out as intended either, his wedge bouncing into the ball and shooting 10 feet past. He walked off with a double-bogey 6.

It was the pivotal moment of this PGA thus far, not least because it turned into a pair of three-shot swings.

Just after Schauffele hacked out from the fescue, one of his playing partners, Sahith Theegala, perfectly slid under his flop shot and holed it for an unlikely birdie.

“A bonus,” said Theegala, who is now in solo third.

Then the other player in the group, Collin Morikawa, swirled in a 6-footer for birdie, after a dialed wedge shot of his own, to take the outright lead for the first time.

“Sometimes you need those things to go your way,” Morikawa said afterward. “It was nice to have that little swing for me just heading into tomorrow.”

Schauffele bounced back and closed with consecutive birdies to share the 54-hole lead with Morikawa, but the costly mistake on 15 looms large.

There are now six players separated by just two shots heading into the final round – the most bunched PGA leaderboard in nearly 20 years. In all, 15 players are at or within five shots of the lead.

It’s a logjam that may have jeopardized Schauffele’s best chance to capture what has been an elusive major. He has six career top-5s in majors but has rarely been in the mix over the final few holes. That matches with what has been a consistent theme over the past two years, during which he has been one of the game’s best and most consistent players, only with little to show for it because of his final-round performance. Overall, he’s 2-for-8 with at least a share of the 54-lead on Tour, including a loss last week at Quail Hollow, where he led by a shot but was lapped in the final round by Rory McIlroy.

“It’s another Sunday. I typically love Sundays,” Schauffele said. “I think I need to just stay in my lane and do a lot of what I’ve been doing and just worry about myself.”

Morikawa, meanwhile, has had plenty to worry about recently as he struggled to regain the form that made him a two-time major champion by the age of 24. Morikawa was without a coach ahead of the Masters but found something in his swing before the tournament that led to his reliable fade returning. He played in the final group with Scottie Scheffler that day but faded with a Sunday 74.

“I think the goal for me tonight before my tee time is just to be as mentally sharp by that first hole,” Morikawa said. “Looking back at a month ago at Augusta, I felt sharp in everything, but I feel like I could have had a little bit of self-talk before I went out on that first tee and just not got ahead of myself. Tomorrow I’m just going to put everything I have out there and see how it plays out.”

Typically, he’ll practice after the round, eat dinner and go to sleep. But now, he said, he wants to ensure that he’s “ready for these moments.” He seemed to rehearse his speech on Saturday night.

“I think today is going to be a great time to just sit down for 60 seconds and just let it out, just tell yourself what you want to do,” he said. “I’ve got a job. I knew showing up we’re going to give ourselves a chance, and we’ve done the job for three days. I’ve got a goal. Hopefully we can accomplish that tomorrow.”

His task was just made easier by the critical swings on the 15th.