Final round should have plenty of headlines
HAVEN, Wis. -- The Masters has tradition oozing from every azalea. The U.S. Open is the championship of our country, and the British Open is the championship of the rest of the world.
The PGA Championship is none of the above.
The PGA is the fourth major on the calendar, and the fourth major in your heart. It is the teacher on the day before vacation, trying to maintain the attention of the class.
The last two years, the PGA has been won by Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel, neither of whom has won a tournament since. A year ago, at historic Oak Hill, the leaderboard looked like it had been filled by the witness-protection program (paging Tim Clark and Alex Cejka).
This year, all is forgiven. At Whistling Straits, with its man-made cliffs overlooking Lake Michigan, its wee bit of County Mayo in the land of cheese and mayo, the PGA got it right.
Take a look at the leaderboard Saturday night. Vijay Singh, looking for his fifth victory of the season, is the leader at 12 under. Singh shot a 69, fueled by a back-nine 33 as so many of the front-runners faltered. Justin Leonard finished one stroke back. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson are in a five-way tie for third, four strokes behind.
Check the resumes. Four major championship winners are among the top seven. Mickelson is fourth in the world golf ranking. Singh is third. Els is second, and may overtake Tiger Woods on Sunday with a first- or second-place finish.
But that is a subplot, something that the PGA doesn't need this year. Most years, the PGA could use a subplot or two, like this year's finish line for the Ryder Cup.
Last year, until Micheel hit that soul-selling seven-iron on the last hole, we would have taken out a second mortgage for a Ryder Cup race. This year there's a great one developing for Sunday. Chris DiMarco, Jay Haas, Stewart Cink and Leonard could all earn an automatic berth with a good round Sunday. Ho-hum.
"Player of the Year, money list, Vardon Trophy [scoring average] -- it's all there," said Mickelson's swing coach, Rick Smith.
Subplots, all of them.
In past years, a Donald Trump sighting might have been big PGA news. At one point Saturday, The Donald planted himself at the crest of the hill that the golfers climb to leave the 9th and 18th green. Mickelson nearly pulled a neck muscle doing a double take as he walked by Trump.
"Hey, whaddya say?" Mickelson asked, stopping to shake Trump's hand.
After Joe Ogilvie completed his 70, he walked up, saw Trump, stuck out his hand and said, "I can be the Apprentice!" But this PGA Championship refused to be Trumped.
Micheel is tied for 41st. Beem missed the cut. Whistling Straits has culled this field with all the mercy of a combine. The tricks that course architect Pete Dye employs have pushed aside every golfer who isn't absolutely dialed in.
"He really does try and divert your attention," Leonard said of Dye. Leonard bogeyed the first and last holes he played Saturday and still shot a 70. "He wants you looking at everything but the fairway or the green where you're supposed to hit it. This is probably the most dramatic of his courses that I've played, and if you've played a single Dye course, you know they are pretty dramatic."
Drama accompanied Briny Baird on the final five holes, which he played in five-over, falling from a tie to second to a tie for 11th, seven strokes back. The picture of Baird scuffing for a stance, hard against the berm, to hit his third shot on the par-3 16th defines what Whistling Straits will do to anyone whose attention wanes.
Drama will be everywhere on Sunday as well. Els is in position to win a major for the fourth time this year. Mickelson, looking to become the first man ever to finish in the top three of all four modern majors, said he hopes for a windy day.
"I would like to see it 20 or 30 knots," Mickelson said. "If it's like it is today, I could shoot seven-under-par and it may not be good enough."
When Mickelson made the turn in 31, he thought he had a 65 in him Saturday. But he fought Whistling Straits to a draw on the back, and finished with a 67. When Mickelson emerged from signing his card, he clapped his left arm around Smith's shoulders and said, "It wasn't all that I wanted, but..."
Wind used to be kryptonite for Mickelson and his rainbow ball flight. Now, he's asking for wind. Times do change.
Final pairings do not. For the second consecutive round, Singh and Leonard will bring up the rear. Only two weeks ago, Singh went head-to-head with John Daly in the final round of the Buick Open. Singh fell behind, overtook Daly on the back nine and won by a stroke. In fact, Singh has won the last seven tournaments in which he held at least a share of the lead through three rounds.
If Singh wins, he will all but clinch Player of the Year and all but clinch the money list. Singh, like this PGA, isn't interested in the subplots. He got caught up in trying to catch Woods in the world ranking earlier this year and didn't play well. You don't have to be Jim Nantz to figure out Singh has gotten that out of his system.
"I am totally focused on what I am doing, my game, and not really worried about the rankings," Singh said Saturday. The PGA Championship stands on its own with Singh.
This year, it stands on its own for all of us.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Ivan.Maisel@espn3.com.
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