The weather might have been hot but it turned out to be Thomas Björn who was truly sizzling at Baltusrol as The European Tour member set the US PGA Championship alight. The Dane became only the 20th player in history to shoot 63 in a Major Championship and in the process propelled himself into third place at the end of the penultimate round.
Björn started the day ten shots adrift of overnight leader Phil Mickelson, but his sensational seven under par effort moved him to five under par 205 for the Championship and only one shot behind the joint leaders Davis Love III and Mickelson.
The winner of eight titles on The European Tour International Schedule had eight birdies in total with only one dropped shot at the seventh, where an errant tee shot found the punishing Baltusrol rough. But apart from that, Björn was flawless.
He began his birdie barrage on the second hole where a three iron tee shot was followed by a nine iron approach to four feet. Further birdies followed at the fourth and fifth to help him to the turn in two under par 32.
But it was turning for home that the winner of The Daily Telegraph Dunlop Masters in May truly excelled and produced golf he himself described as “picture perfect.” Birdie putts dropped from 25 and 12 feet at the tenth and 11th respectively before two exquisite nine iron approaches at the 14th and 15th yielded two further threes.
A brave up and down from the bunker saved par at the 16th before he again pitched and putted for par at the monstrous 650 yard 17th. Even with history beckoning, the Dane remained ice cool in temperatures which touched 100 degrees, to find the back of the green at the par five 18th in two from where he two putted for birdie four and 63.
“Pretty much everything went right for me today,” he said. “It was one of those days where I got off to a good start and then on the next few holes it becomes a little easier. I hit a couple of poorish tee shots but got away with them and I guess sometimes you have to do that.
“I’ve worked hard on my golf swing over the last two weeks. I’ve been making some big changes and today they felt comfortable for the first time in a long time and it was nice to go out and shoot that kind of number.
“In many ways this was a bonus but I am definitely seeing the results of the hard work and I am seeing that I am getting back on track. What I need to do now is to go back to the hotel and get relaxed and get ready for tomorrow.”
As well as tying the record for Major Championship scoring, Björn’s 63 also matched the Baltusrol Golf Club record set jointly by Tom Weiskopf and Jack Nicklaus in the 1980 US Open, the two scorecards spotted by the Dane on the locker room wall earlier in the week.
“No matter where you go in the golfing world, there’s always a wall with Jack Nicklaus on it somewhere,” he joked, adding. “I don’t shoot very low rounds very often as I’ve always been a guy who has enjoyed playing tough courses. But that is certainly a good list to be a part of.”
Overnight leader Mickelson did not have his best day in the Major arena as his start of three bogeys in his first six holes testified. But the winner of the 2004 Masters Tournament knuckled down and his only departure from par after that was a birdie two at the short 12th on his way to a third round 72.
Love III, whose only Major victory to date came in the US PGA Championship at Winged Foot in 1997, had a better day than his compatriot. The 41 year old did suffer four bogeys but more than made up for that with six birdies elsewhere in his 68 and the two Americans will make up the last group in Sunday’s final round.
Björn will have another American, the largely unheralded Pat Perez for company in the last round, the 29 year old from Arizona booking his place with a fine third round 67, which featured four birdies in his last seven holes for a 67 and a four under par total of 206.
Joining Perez on that total is the 1995 US PGA Champion Steve Elkington of Australia, who carded a third round 68, fellow Australian Stuart Appleby, who posted a 69, and European Tour Honorary Member and defending US PGA Champion Vijay Singh, who was consistency personified in his 69, his card featuring 17 straight pars before he eventually unearthed a red birdie four at the 18th.
An excellent week for The European Tour continued amongst the players tied for eighth place on three under par 207, only three shots off the lead, a group which featured Retief Goosen, Greg Owen and Lee Westwood.
Owen revealed he felt he had left a couple of shots on the golf course after his level par 70, while Westwood staged a superb recovery to keep his dream of the title alive. The 32 year old looked in dire straits when he slipped to one over par for the tournament after 12 holes. But he rallied magnificently and four birdies in his last six holes saw him home in 71.
“I was delighted with myself and I really battled it out because obviously things weren’t going well for a while out there,” he said. “After 12 holes it looked like a disaster but I told myself I needed a good finish to get back into the tournament and I was four under for the last six and now I am looking forward to tomorrow because I have a good chance.”