Justin Leonard stepped up his quest for a second Major Championship with a flawless performances at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, as Tiger Woods sustained a strong challenge for his ninth in the 84th US PGA Championship.
Leonard, the 1997 Open Champion, defied testing, swirling winds to shoot a three under par 69 and establish a three stroke lead over another Texan resident, Rich Beem, going into the final round of a Championship in which European Tour Members were thwarted in their attempts to get into contention.
The man who conquered Royal Troon five years ago was the only player to break 70 in the third round for a total of 207, while Woods – in search of his third Major of the season – suffered his only bogey of the round at the last for a level par 72 and aggregate of 212.
That hole had earlier produced the shot of the Championship as Woods completed his second round early in the morning by hitting a three iron from a bunker over trees to 12 feet and holed the putt for a birdie.
Had he done so again, he could have teed off in the final group with Leonard, but that distinction will go to Beem, one of five third round leaders, who holed a tough par putt on the last for a 72 to stay ahead of third placed Fred Funk on five under.
However there was a sense of frustration for many of the 19 European Tour Members who made the halfway cut when the storm-interrupted second round was finally completed shortly before noon on Saturday.
In particular, Pierre Fulke of Sweden and England’s Justin Rose both felt the full force of the 40mph winds which whipped across Lake Hazeltine and sent scores soaring in the third round.
Ryder Cup rookie Fulke started the round full of promise at four under par and only two strokes off the lead shared by five players, including 2001 US Open Champion, Retief Goosen. However the Swede was unable to get into his stride with four bogeys and a double bogey seven at the 15th and he finished with a 77 for 218, two over par.
He shares that mark -currently tied for 13th - with no fewer than six other European Tour Members in Ernie Els, Ricardo Gonzalez, Padraig Harrington, Greg Norman, Rose and Adam Scott.
Rose, who began so encouragingly with a 69, returned to the course early in the morning to complete his second round in 73 for 142. At that stage he was tied for 12th position but he slipped back a place on the leaderboard after a third round 76.
The 22 year old Englishman birdied the fifth but that one bonus was offset by bogeys at the second and ninth and a double bogey at the short eighth. Rose dropped another stroke at the 12th but hit back strongly with birdies at the 13th and 15th to return to level par before the signature 16th caught him out as he drove into the water and took a double bogey six.
There were difficulties, too, for new Open Champion, Els, and Ireland’s Harrington, who shot 74 and 75 respectively to join Rose on 218. Both players started out with double bogey sixes to derail their challenges, but in Harrington’s case there were mitigating circumstances.
The Irishman hurt his neck just ten minutes before teeing off and had to summon a physiotherapist to perform manipulation on the first fairway. It was to Harrington’s credit that he played the remaining 17 holes in level par.
While Els suffered a difficult day, his fellow countryman Retief Goosen had a positively disappointing one. Goosen, who finished on Friday night before the electrical storms struck, went into the third round sharing top spot. However he went to the turn in 41 with three bogeys and a double bogey. He dropped a further stroke at the 14th and just managed to break 80, although his 79 for 217 left him in a tie for tenth with Australian Peter Lonard.
The highest placed European Tour Member at the end of a hard day was Argentinian José Coceres, who moved into the top ten in joint seventh place after a round of 72 for 215.