PGA Championship - Round Three
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

If the overture of the first three days is any indication, the stage is set for a powerful final act. This has been well worth the wait, and we still have Sunday to play. Who could ask for more?

Absence does make the heart grow fonder and the lack of major championship golf for so long has lifted Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park into one of the most anticipated sports finales in a very long time. So bring it on.

Amazingly, the reality of this championship has exceeded even the loftiest expectations after the long delay. This PGA Championship has been that rarity in sports – it’s been better than advertised.

Saturday’s third round was a rollicking romp along Lake Merced as virtually everyone on the leaderboard experienced both the agony and the ecstasy of the game. There were birdie putts made, lost balls and a ton of great golf shots.

The day started with 30 players within six strokes of the lead and it only got tighter. At one point, 19 guys were within two strokes of the top spot as they jockeyed for position in Sunday’s chase for the Wanamaker Trophy.

When dusk descended, the leaderboard was populated by major champions, those expected to win majors and some fresh faces.

PGA Championship - Round Three
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 08: Dustin Johnson of the United States lines up a putt on the 18th hole during the third round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 08, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Sitting alone at nine-under-par 201 is Dustin Johnson, who was second in the PGA last year and won the 2016 U.S. Open. He overpowered TPC Harding Park for a 65. Remarkably, Johnson recovered from a double bogey on No. 9 to shoot 31 on the incoming nine.

“I putted really well, that was the key,” said Johnson, who’s won 21 times on the PGA Tour, including at least once in each of the last 13 years.

“But I hit a lot of good shots to give myself some good looks because the flags are tucked,” Johnson said. “Tomorrow I think I need to hit some more fairways, because it's really tough playing this golf course from the rough.”

One stroke behind Johnson at 202 is Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ with Collin Morikawa, Paul Casey and Brooks Koepka, trying for his third consecutive PGA, at 203.

Bryson DeChambeau, Tony Finau, Daniel Berger, Tommy Fleetwood, 2013 U.S. Open winner Justin Rose and 2015 PGA Championship titleholder Jason Day are at 204.

With a dozen players within three strokes of the lead, this has all the makings of a contest that is going to go right down to the wire – or longer, as it did 20 years ago when Tiger Woods outlasted Bob May in the first use of the three-hole playoff in the PGA Championship.

One of those not within three of the lead is 36-hole leader Haotong Li, who shot 73, including a lost ball that didn’t come down from a tree. He’s four back at 205.

Scheffler, a PGA Tour rookie, rattled off three consecutive birdies beginning on No. 15 to take the lead at nine under par. But he gave a stroke back with a bogey on the last hole for a 65, matching Johnson for the low round of the day.

PGA Championship - Round Three
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 08: Scottie Scheffler of the United States talks with his caddie on the 13th fairway during the third round of the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 08, 2020 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

“I hit some really nice shots and got some good looks,” said Scheffler, 24, the Korn Ferry Tour player of the year in 2019. He’s playing in his first PGA Championship and gives a lot of credit to his coach, PGA of America Hall of Fame member Randy Smith.

“My relationship with Randy goes back a long time,” says Scheffler. “I've been working with him since I was probably seven years old, and he's been a tremendous influence on my life, and I can't thank him enough for what he's done.”

As brilliant as play has been this week, also doing a star turn is TPC Harding Park, a delicious mix of holes requiring tee shots shaped both ways. Kerry Haigh, the chief championships officer for the PGA of America, is once again flawless in his set-up. Good shots are rewarded while wayward shots lead to bogeys – and worse.

There are birdie opportunities early and a couple thrown in late, but there is a brutal stretch in the middle that is the absolute key to scoring. The three most-difficult holes are Nos. 9, 12 and 13 with Nos. 8 and 14 also in the top five. The easiest is No. 10, a par-5 that is a must birdie.

“You want to get off to a fast start on the first seven holes,” said 2005 PGA Championship winner Phil Mickelson. “It’s not that it’s easy, but there are birdie opportunities. It’s an emotional letdown not to birdie the tenth going into 11 through 14.”

Here are a few facts to file away for when you watch Sunday’s final round:

The last 25 major winners were within four of lead entering final round with the last 14 within three.

The last 81 major winners were in top-10 entering the final round. The last to come from outside top-10 to win was Paul Lawrie in the 1999 Open.

Every PGA Championship winner since 1990 was inside top-10 entering final round.

Three months after the PGA Championship was supposed to be played and 13 months after the last major was contested, the first major of 2020 comes to its last round.

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