European Tour Honorary Member Vijay Singh of Fiji, seeking his third Major Championship title, goes into the final round of the 86th US PGA Championship with a one stroke advantage over 1997 Open Champion, Justin Leonard, and four clear of a chasing pack that includes other European Tour Members Darren Clarke and Ernie Els along with Masters Champion Phil Mickelson.
Singh has led two Major Championships at the 54 hole stage during his career – the 1998 US PGA Championship and the 2000 Masters Tournament – and he went on to win both. A third round 69 for a 12 under par total of 204 puts the World Number Three in the driving seat to add to those triumphs.
With a leaderboard at Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin, packed with pedigree, the final round of the final Major Championship of the 2004 season is poised for a classic finale. Singh leads Leonard by one with Els, Clarke, Mickelson, Stephen Ames and Chris Riley also in contention only four strokes off the lead.
For much of a pulsating third day on the shores of Lake Michigan it looked as if just a shot or two would separate the leading seven or eight contenders but over the closing holes Singh and Leonard managed to break free of the logjam.
After reaching the turn in level par, Singh birdied the tenth, 13th and 16th holes to remain locked with Leonard at the top of the leaderboard until the American bogeyed the last.
Leonard, who beat Clarke into second in the 1997 Open Championship at Royal Troon, is renowned as one of the best putters in the world and he showed why with a series of great putts.
He dropped a shot at the first but birdied the fifth, sixth, tenth and 12th to take a two stroke advantage before Singh clawed his way back into a share of the lead with those birdies at the 13th and 16th holes Leonard then found sand with his approach to the last and, after an indecisive recovery, failed to make par as he closed with a two under par 70 to lie on 11 under par 205
Clarke, celebrating his 36th birthday today, had just about everything in his round, including a shank on the 17th, as he carded a level par 72 to lie four off the pace on eight under par in joint third. One ahead after his opening 65 and one behind after he added a 71, the Ulsterman went to the turn in a disappointing 37 in his third round.
But Clarke was still very much in touch. On one of those frustrating days where the putts refused to drop, Clarke showed his patience to remain hot on the heels of the leaders. Despite a full blooded shank on the 17th which cost him a bogey, Clarke came home in 35 for a level par 72 to go into the final round on eight under par in contention for his Major breakthrough.
“I wasn’t quite right today,” said Clarke. “I didn’t hit the ball as well as I have done and made it difficult for myself. It was a mixture of everything – from hitting a perfect three wood on the 16th to shanking it on the 17th. But four behind and hopefully I can make a good start and see what happens.”
Els struggled with his driving all day and used all his powers of recovery to post a level par 72 to join Clarke on eight under par. After finishing second in both the Masters Tournament and the Open Championship, Els has one last round this year to add a fourth Major title to his previous two US Open successes and Open title.
England’s Brian Davis did his Ryder Cup chances the world of good, the Londoner carding a three under par 69 after dropping a shot on the last, a disappointing end to a wonderful round.
Davis currently lies 14th in the combined Ryder Cup World and European Points Lists with the top ten after the BMW International Open qualifying for the European Team and he will be hoping to steal a march on his Ryder Cup rivals as the race enters the home straight.
“I holed a 15 foot putt on the second which was key today as I then went on to birdie the next three,” said Davis. “That got a bit of momentum going but I struggled a bit on the back nine. I was disappointed with the finish after a great chance for birdie on the 17th and then to drop a shot on the last. But it is good to be right in there in the mix.”
England’s Luke Donald, in contention for the first time in a Major Championship and also in the running to represent Europe in The 35th Ryder Cup Matches at Oakland Hills, Bloomfield Township, Michigan, next month, bogeyed his last two holes for a 71 to lie on five under par 211 alongside Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who posted a level par 72, and Australian Adam Scott (69).