Tim Clark and Ernie Els will spearhead The European Tour challenge in the final round of the 85th US PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, but the men the South African duo have to topple are the unheralded Chad Campbell and Shaun Micheel, who remained in position to complete a remarkable year in the realm of the Major Championships.
Not since 1969 have all four Majors been claimed by first time winners, but the American duo stayed on course to follow Mike Weir (Masters Tournament), Jim Furyk (US Open Championship) and Ben Curtis (Open Golf Championship), into the record books.
Campbell, who produced his best performance in a Major Championship last month when he tied for 15th in the Open at Royal St George’s, produced the round of the tournament with a 65 for a four under par total of 206 to join debutant Micheel, who carded a 69.
However, Micheel should have led outright after an amazing run of five birdies in nine holes from the seventh moved him to seven under par for the tournament and four shots clear. But an untidy finish saw him drop shots at each of the last three holes to bring him back to the pack.
Not only did that give encouragement to Campbell, it also heartened Canadian Weir, who stood in third place on one under par 209 after a 70.
A Weir victory would, of course, ruin the four first-time winners in a year statistic, but it would allow the left-hander to write his own page in the history books, namely as the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1975 to win the Masters Tournament and the US PGA Championship in the same year.
While the North America trio, the only three players in the field under par, remain in the box seats, hopes remain high of the first success by a European Tour Member in the event since Vijay Singh won at Sahalee in 1998.
Leading the way in that quest is fourth placed Clark, winner of his native South African Open on The European Tour in 2002, who carded a fine two under par 68 for a level par total of 210.
The 27 year old made his move on the front nine where four birdies, including an excellent 15 footer at the ninth, saw him to the turn in 32. He could not quite maintain the momentum on the inward half, dropping a shot at the 14th, but he recovered well with four pars over the demanding home stretch.
“I haven’t really been playing that well of late and I don’t feel I have been mentally ready but I knew this was a big week for me and I have been trying really hard in all aspects of my game and it seems to be working out,” said Clark.
“Conditions today meant the course firmed up a little bit which was pretty good for me because I do keep the ball in the fairways, which you have to do here, and that meant I got a little bit of run.”
One shot behind on one over par 211, amongst a group of four players which included the leading European golfer Alex Cejka, was Els, who endured a rollercoaster round of 70 which featured four bogeys but also four birdies, including at the last where he rolled in a brave 15 footer.
“Overall I felt I played pretty well today,” he said. “I turned at two under and I felt I could take it on from there but I made a couple of silly mistakes on the inward half and couldn’t really get anything going coming in.
“But I still have to believe I have a chance. I think I’m playing well enough to shoot a low number tomorrow and I just have to go out there and take my chances while at the same time, cut out the mistakes.”
Further down the leaderboard, other European Tour Members to complete three rounds were Vijay Singh (212), Adam Scott (213), Luke Donald (216), Niclas Fasth, Padraig Harrington and Peter Lonard (all 217), Angel Cabera, Jose Coceres, Gary Evans and Ian Poulter (all 219), Trevor Immelman (221), Bernhard Langer (222), Paul Casey (223), José Maria Olazábal and Eduardo Romero (both 224) and Michael Campbell (225).
Harrington, currently third on the Volvo Order of Merit behind Thomas Björn and Els, confirmed he intends to travel to next week's WGC - NEC Invitational in Akron, Ohio after having been told he is not expecting to become a father for another week.
Originally not sure whether he would even compete this week, Harrington and wife Caroline have been informed by their doctor that their baby, due on Monday, is likely now to be several days late.
“She kicked me out of the door," joked the Dubliner after his 69. “Obviously next week is not the same as this one, but I'm going to go there and then I'll just make a decision if I get a call.”