US PGA Championship Final Round Preview: Matt Fitzpatrick chasing Mito Pereira in wide open contest

Southern Hills Country Club provided a Moving Day of wild swings at the end of which Chile’s Pereira leads by three.

Webb Simpson didn't think so but, in reality, it was another tough day at Southern Hills in the 2022 US PGA Championship.

Simpson thrashed a brilliant 65 and heads into the final round T10th after making the cut on the number, but the average for the day was a touch below 73.

The halfway leaders. and those most closely chasing them, found it difficult.

When the dust had settled, Chile's Mito Pereira was three clear on 9-under 201 after a fighting third round of 69.

Matt Fitzpatrick (67) and Will Zalatoris (73) share second, Cameron Young is alone in fourth on 5-under, with Abraham Ancer and Seamus Power are tied for sixth another blow in arrears.

That top six are all chasing a first Major victory, and only Ancer and Power have a PGA Tour wins (and even then only one apiece).

Major winners Stewart Cink, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson share seventh, but must hope for nerves from the leading half dozen and something special from themselves.

Rory McIlroy's reverse through the field continued with a 74 that left him T17th on level-par.

Pereira is the first championship rookie since John Daly in 1991 to lead after 54 holes and he is seeking to become the first man since Danny Willett in 2016 to win a Major as his first PGA Tour title.

He had watched his Saturday playing partner Zalatoris struggle early (4-over through seven) and appeared in control until the turn. He was 2-under through seven, but made bogey at four of the next five holes before righting the ship with another three par breakers.

"I was playing really good and then it was suddenly a tough place to be," he said. "So really happy how I ended up playing and the birdie on 18 was a bonus. Just happy to be in this position."

His plans overnight? "I'll just try to disconnect a little bit I guess. I was pretty nervous today. I was in the final pairing. I'll just try to rest, do what I do every day and keep it simple."

Fitzpatrick also had problems. He opened with back-to-back bogeys, but then added six par breakers and only made one further mistake as he chases glory.

"Really proud of the way that I battled back and didn't really let it faze me," he said.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods withdrew after the third circuit.

Stats

In the 21st century, no less than 85 of the 88 Major Championship winners were lying tied sixth or better heading into the final round.

But in the PGA Championship that tally is 22 of 22 and they were all tied fourth or better.

That trend stretches even further back: the last 30 PGA Championship winners were tied fifth or better after three rounds and a staggering 24 of them were tied second or better.

At Southern Hills there have been 10 tournaments and every time the winner was tied second or better at this stage.

Finally, there have been three winners at Southern Hills in the 21st century (Retief Goosen in the 2001 US Open, Tiger Woods in the 2007 PGA Championship and Alex Cejka in the 2021 Senior PGA Championship) and each one of them ranked fourth for Greens in Regulation. This is a course when avoiding nasty par savers from off the putting surface really matters

This week? Pereira leads the rankings, Justin Thomas (2-under) is second, Zalatoris is seventh.

Mito Pereira - leading on 9-under

He's looking for a second top 10 of the season, to better his PGA Tour best of tied third, to land the best Chilean finish in a Major (currently T23rd) and become the 10th first time winner this year.

He's never been in this position before at this level, but is 2-for-4 with a lead after three rounds, most recently last year on the Korn Ferry Tour.

He said: "It's a tough course. You have some spots that you can't hit. You just have to hit it really well."

On winning first time at a Major he tried to keep it simple: "If you play really good golf during the week, you're going to win. Doesn't matter your first time or your 10th time, if you play really, really well you're, going to have chances."

Matt Fitzpatrick - tied second on 6-under

He has a great record in the DP World Tour Championship - an elite level event on a long and difficult course - but has been awful in the Majors, with a best of tied seventh from 27 starts.

But eight top 20s in nine 2022 starts, and playing all his best golf on tough courses, certainly always made him a good fit for this type of test.

He's 2-for-9 at winning when second heading into the final lap. His seven career wins have all come from being inside the top three with 18 holes to play.

He said of his opportunity: "I'm just looking forward to it. I've spoken about it with my coaches at length about my major record. I've always just said to them, I just want to give myself a chance because I back myself at the end of the day.

"I feel like whenever I've had a chance in Europe, I've played very well. Even over here, I've not had that many chances to win. But when I have, I've played well. I've not lost it."

Will Zalatoris - tied second on 6-under

This is the third time he has found himself second with 18 holes to play - he finished fourth on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2020 and remained second in last year's Masters.

He has four top 10s in his last five Major starts and five top 10s this calendar year.

He said: "I would rather have a frustrating start and good finish. It's good momentum heading into tomorrow. It was brutal out there and I really did a poor job of leaving myself above the hole pretty much all day."

Of his Major record, he added: "I've been fortunate enough to grow up around Lanny Wadkins and Lee Trevino, and obviously those guys are Major Champions. It's funny to even think of Scottie (Scheffler) and Jordan (Spieth), as well. I'll just stick to my game. Got nothing to lose tomorrow."

Cameron Young - fourth on 5-under

The rookie arrived here off the back of third at The Heritage and second at the Wells Fargo Championship, his third and fourth top three finishes of his rookie season.

A two-time winner last year on the KFT, both were wire-to-wire successes.

He's keeping everything as normal as possible, saying: "I don't know if it feels that much different. Obviously, there's bigger stands and more people, golf-wise it feels very similar to what I've been doing. I don't think it's terribly different. But it's the PGA Championship, which means a lot to me given my family connection to it."

His father was a PGA pro.

READ MORE: US PGA Championship: History tells us that there's a Southern Hills secret route to success

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