PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Sweaters one day, umbrellas the next. No one is sure what to expect at this PGA Championship except that Scottie Scheffler is locked in at another major and Oak Hill is a mighty test.
Scheffler delivered a mix of birdies and great recoveries from wet, nasty rough Friday until he couldn’t escape one last errant tee shot on the 18th that cost him the lead, but certainly did little to dim his optimism.
“When you can hang around the lead and stay in position and hopefully wait to get hot, it’s a good position to be in,” Scheffler said after a 2-under 68 that gave him a three-way share of the lead with Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners.
“I’ve done a good job the first two days of keeping the golf course in front of me and scrambling well,” he said. “Tomorrow I’m hoping to hit a few more fairways than I did today, make it a little easier on myself. But ultimately, 2 under is a good round around this place.”
Rain is in the forecast for Saturday, probably not enough to douse the anticipation of Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka playing together. They were antagonists two years ago — remember the “Brooksy” chants directed at DeChambeau — a relationship somewhat mended through their time in the Saudi-funded LIV Golf League.
That feels like long a long time ago, and both have a major on their minds. DeChambeau salvaged a 71 and was two behind; Koepka shot 66 and was three back.
Conners dropped only one shot on the brutal closing stretch on the back nine and posted a 68. Hovland had only one bogey in his round of 67.
They were at 5-under 135, with more variety on the horizon. Rain was in the forecast for Saturday, wind on Sunday, and 18 players were separated by five shots.
There were a few late charges to move into contention (Koepka with a 31 on the back nine), to keep hopes alive (Rory McIlroy with a 69) or simply to make the cut (Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas).
For now, Scheffler is the target as a Masters champion a year ago and a player who has not finished worse than 12th all year.
Hovland, who shared the 54-hole lead at St. Andrews last summer, is getting used to this, too. He dropped only one shot early in his round of 67, and closed with a 7-iron out of wet, thick rough to 5 feet for birdie. It was his 10th consecutive round in the majors when he ended the day among the top 10 on the leaderboard.
Conners had a 68, at one point building a two-shot lead until he had to rely on his short game to account for some errant drives and tough holes on the front nine.
They were two shots clear of DeChambeau and Justin Suh (68).
The leading seven players came from the same side of the draw. They were delayed by two hours from freezing temperatures and a coat of frost on the grass. They avoided the wind Friday morning, and then passing showers took some of fire out of Oak Hill.
“The rain … just thankfully we didn’t have any wind, so that kind of helped us out,” Hovland said. “With that rain, the ball went a little bit short. And if you’re in the rough, it tends to make that rough a little bit juicier. At the end of the day, it makes the greens softer, and you can maybe be a hair more aggressive.”
There were some impressive turnarounds, to be sure.
Shane Lowry had six birdies in an eight-hole stretch in the rainy afternoon until closing with a pair of bogeys. He had to settle for a 67, leaving him in a large group at even-par 140, five shots behind but still very much in the thick of it.
That group included club pro Michael Block (70), and it included Rory McIlroy, who felt as though he hit the ball badly – and sounded like it on one drive with one choice word – and was mildly stunned when he glanced at the leaderboard to find himself in range.
“I think how terribly I’ve felt over the golf ball over the last two days, the fact that I’m only five back … I guess that’s a good thing, because I know if I can get it in play off the tee, that’s the key to my success over the weekend,” McIlroy said.
Some players were simply happy to still be around for the weekend.
Rahm, the Masters champion and No. 1 player in the world, opened with a 76 and couldn’t get a putt to fall. He was running out of holes, one shot over the cut of 5 over, when he ran off three straight birdies and salvaged a 68 to make the cut with one shot to spare.
Spieth walked off the tee at the drivable 14th figuring he would have a good look at birdie. And then he found such an awkward lie in a front bunker that his shot sailed over the green, over the boundary fence and landed somewhere on the grounds of Irondequoit Country Club. He somehow salvaged a bogey and delivered clutch putts — none bigger than a 10-footer in the rain for a par on the final hole — to make the cut on the number.
And now the focus shifts to the top, a mixture of major champions, players making their debuts in the PGA Championship, a PGA Tour rookie and a club professional. All of them were within five shots of the lead.
DeChambeau had a rugged start, particularly on the par-4 sixth hole, so difficult that it yielded only three birdies out of 156 players and had an average score of 4.75. He was in a greenside bunker, took two shot to get out and made double bogey.
He didn’t make his first birdie until the par-3 11th hole — DeChambeau hit 6-iron from 248 yards to 6 feet — and had two more birdies before a bogey finish.
And then he headed to the range as darkness fell.
“I know what to do. I’ve done it before,” said DeChambeau, the U.S. Open champion at Winged Foot in 2020. “It’s been a few years, but it doesn’t mean I don’t know how to do it, and if it’s not my time, it’s not my time. I feel like I’m definitely trending in the right direction finally.”