PGA to resume Monday with Mickelson in lead

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. -- No professional athlete may depend more on routine than the golfer, which is what will make the conclusion of the PGA Championship on Monday morning so compelling.

All week, the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club has been a reverse mountain, making the players suffer for the first seven holes, then gradually lightening up. Three of the easiest four holes on the course are also three of the final four holes. The 554-yard 18th hole has been a bunny, surrendering an average score of 4.517.

After coming out for four days in a defensive posture, the players remaining on the leaderboard must think about attacking, all the while contending with the pressures of trying to win a major championship.

Leave it to ever-sunny Phil Mickelson, who will sleep with a tenuous one-stroke lead over Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn, to look at the bright side.

"Oh, this is a tremendous advantage, I think, because we get a few extra holes to play and hopefully calm weather after hopefully some rain, maybe to soften it up a little bit," Mickelson said.

Bjorn sounded as if he would try to turn Baltusrol into Augusta National, where pars on the back nine in the final round don't get you very far.

"I probably need a couple of birdies over the last four holes to try and win this golf tournament," said Bjorn, "and I'm going to try and do that."

Despite the forecast of a 50 percent chance for thunderstorms Sunday afternoon and Sunday night, the PGA of America officials chose not to move up tee times. In the wide, wide world of television, that's not surprising. What is surprising is that the PGA officials didn't even discuss it amongst themselves, much less with CBS.

Mickelson questioned the decision, saying that he suggested to an official before the round that play be moved up an hour. Events proved him prescient.

Inclement weather caused a 39-minute delay shortly before Mickelson and Davis Love III began their round. Play resumed at 3:20 p.m., and continued for three hours and 15 minutes. By 6 p.m., the skies had darkened so much that it looked as if The Battle at The Bridges II might break out.

Mickelson's study of a two-foot par putt on the 14th green was interrupted by a bolt of lightning off to his left, but not far off, which explains why Mickelson marked his ball and high-tailed it to a waiting van.

"Look, I love this championship, OK?," Mickelson said with just the right tone to get the laugh. "But I want to live."

He will awaken Monday morning with the opportunity to become one of the few wire-to-wire major winners to sleep on the lead for four nights instead of three. Seve Ballesteros did it at the 1983 Masters, according to golf historian Sal Johnson.

Mickelson is 4 under, almost through 14, one stroke ahead of Elkington (through 15) and Bjorn (14), and two strokes ahead of Vijay Singh (15), Davis Love III (13) and Tiger Woods, who may choose not to take his jet to Orlando and just kick himself all the way home.

Woods finished birdie-birdie on the closing par-5s for a 68. His hope to sneak into a playoff remains on life support overnight. As the conditions worsened Sunday, Woods climbed up the leaderboard. Mother Nature gave him life for another night, but in the end, she betrayed him. If the winds had remained strong Sunday without bringing the thunderstorm along, then the leaders may have continued to back up.

"I bet Tiger's disappointed," Elkington said. "With the wind turning around, he would like to have seen us all come and get through 17."

So would have Bjorn, who wished aloud that the tournament would have concluded in the difficult conditions Sunday evening. He will begin Monday morning in the rough on No. 15, but said he had a good lie. Elkington, who will begin on the tee of the 230-yard par-3 16th, sees himself as having an advantage as well.

"I only have three holes left, and two of them are par 5s," Elkington said. "So, you know, my mindset as of right now is I'll probably be the first one with a chance to post a score better than Tiger's, and hopefully, it's about 5 under."

Elkington lurked just off of the lead for three rounds before he quietly moved into contention for a second Wanamaker Trophy (he won in 1995) in the final round. After he birdied the ninth hole to make the turn at 5 under, he held a two-stroke lead, but bogeys at No. 13 and No. 15 dropped him back.

As strange as Monday morning may be, an interviewer asked Elkington if he would try to adhere to his normal routine Sunday night.

"Are you insinuating I'm going to have a couple of beers?" Elkington asked. "Probably will, yeah,"

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Ivan.Maisel@espn3.com.