TULSA, Okla. – Mito Pereira is 18 holes away from making his first PGA Tour title a major one.
The 27-year-old Chilean rolled in a 27-foot birdie putt at 18 to shoot 1-under 69 at Southern Hills and take a 3-stroke lead over Matt Fitzpatrick and Will Zalatoris heading into the final round of the 104th PGA Championship.
With a 54-hole aggregate of 9-under 201, Pereira became the first player to hold the outright 54-hole lead in his PGA Championship debut since John Daly in 1991. The Chilean isn’t the only pro in contention seeking to become the first player since Shaun Micheel in 2003 to make the PGA Championship his first win on Tour.
None of the top four on the leaderboard – Englishman Fitzpatrick, and a pair of former Wake Forest teammates in Zalatoris and Cameron Young – have won a single PGA Tour title let alone a major.
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With birdies at Nos. 2 and 5, Pereira became the first player in the tournament to reach double-digits-under par. He had made a total of just three bogeys in the first 43 holes, stretched his lead to as many as four, but then proceeded to make four bogeys in a five-hole stretch shrinking his lead to one.
“It was a tough place to be at that moment,” he said.
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But Pereira bounced back to play the final six holes in three under to extend his lead to three.
“Any time he got out of position, he made up for it,” Zalatoris said of Pereira. “He had it going sideways probably 7 through 10, and then he righted the ship and made a couple good putts for birdie and hit some great iron shots.
“That was about as solid as he could have played today. Even though he made a few bogeys out there, he really didn’t leave much out there.”
Zalatoris, the 36-hole leader, struggled out of the gate with four bogeys in his first seven holes. The Texan didn’t make his first birdie until his 13th hole of the day and signed for 3-over 73.
“I would rather have a frustrating start and good finish,” he said. “It’s good momentum heading into tomorrow.”
Fitzpatrick, the 27-year-old former U.S. Amateur champion, made six birdies on the day, including the last two holes to shoot 3-under 67. He’s won seven times on the DP World Tour and earned a spot alongside Pereira in the final pairing.
“It’s a chance to win,” he said. “I’ll happily go tee off now if we can.”
Alone in fourth place is rookie Cameron Young, the son of a PGA professional, who drove the drove the green at 17, where the tee was moved up to 296 yards, with a 4-wood and poured in the 24-foot eagle putt to shoot 67 and reach 5-under 205.
Asked what it would mean to claim the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday, he said, “I wouldn’t discriminate. If I were to win a major championship, I would take any one of them. This one specifically with my parents here this week would be pretty incredible.”
The heat and humidity of the early week when temperatures reached into the 90s were a distant memory as the mercury dipped into the 50s and players wore beanies and ski gloves.
“It was brutal,” Zalatoris said.
Webb Simpson shot the round of the day, a 5-under 65, to improve to 1-under and T-10, calling it, “probably top two or three best rounds I’ve ever had in a major, you know, considering the conditions.”
“Today was a test of the mind as well as physically because we have a mist out there all day, clubface is getting a little wet, it’s blowing sideways,” he added. “I typically don’t like to play when it’s colder weather, so I surprised myself a bit today.”
Conditions were less than ideal for Tiger Woods, who was 9-over during an eight-hole sequence, and posted 79, 10 strokes worse than Friday and his worst score at the PGA Championship. Woods later withdrew from the championship.
Those still in the trophy hunt are chasing Pereira, ranked No. 100 in the world, who won three times on the Korn Ferry Tour last year to earn a battlefield promotion to the PGA Tour. He entered the week having recorded five top-25 finishes this season, but no top-10 finishes this calendar year. A victory on Sunday would be life-changing in many ways, including to his bank account. The $2.7 million winner’s check would eclipse his total career earnings of $2,618,115. But Pereira didn’t seem too concerned about the fact that he had yet to win on the PGA Tour.
“If you play really good golf during the week, you’re going to win,
“ he said. “Doesn’t matter your first time or your 10th time, if you play really, really well you’re, going to have chances.”