The unheralded Mito Pereira takes the lead at the PGA Championship

TULSA, Oklahoma — Mito Pereira looked like he was about to run away and hide with the Wannamaker Trophy as the 104th PGA Championship winner.

The 27-year-old from Chile, who is only playing in his second major championship of his career, had played his second hole of the front nine in the third round at Southern Hills Country Club on Saturday. He was 10-under and had built up a five-shot lead.

Then the reality hit that he was only playing in his second career major and was about to change his life.

Pereira blinked.

He immediately bogeyed three consecutive holes and four of five, going from 10-under to 6-under, putting many players back in contention in the process.

Pereira staggered, but didn’t fall.

He responded to his stumble with two massive birdies in places 13 and 14 to bring himself back to 8-under for the tournament and cushion his lead. He then shagged 18 to reach 9-under to make his day an exclamation point.

“I was playing really well and suddenly I was doing four bogeys in five holes,” said Pereira. “It was a difficult place at that moment. [I’m] really happy how i played in the end. The birdie on the 18th was a bonus. I’m just happy to be in this position.

“It’s by far the biggest tournament I’ve ever played in, the biggest round of golf and [Sunday] will be even bigger.”

Pereira, who played college golf at Texas Tech, finished with a 1-under 69 to go three shots clear going into Sunday’s final round.

Matt Fitzpatrick, with a spirited late rally to 3-under 67 in round three, is three shots down at 6-under along with Will Zalatoris, who dropped in his third round and shot 3-over-73.

Matthew Fitzpatrick of England plays his second shot on the 15th hole during the third round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 21, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Matthew Fitzpatrick of England plays his second shot on the 15th hole during the third round of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 21, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

Cameron Young, who grew up in Westchester County where he played at Sleepy Hollow Country Club with his father David, the longtime director of golf, is behind the lead at 5-under four after shooting 67 on Saturday.

Mexico’s Abraham Ancer is five strokes behind 4-under. Ireland’s Seamus Power is 3-under six behind. Stewart Cink, who turned 49 on Saturday, Justin Thomas and Bubba Watson are all seven back at 2-under.

On a day when one of the least experienced players in the field made the biggest move, Thomas and Watson’s performances along with Rory McIlroy came as the most surprising in the third round. All three former Major winners walked away rather than taking advantage of the move-day opportunity.

Watson barely confirmed the second round 63 he posted on Friday to jump into the contest and slumped to 73 on Saturday. Thomas, the 2017 PGA champion, followed his pair of 67s in the first two rounds with a thoroughly underwhelming 74.

McIlroy, who hasn’t won a major championship since 2014, had a miserable day, shooting 74 and falling from the competition to an even score and nine shots from the lead. At one point, after a triple bogey on the par-3 11th, McIlroy was 6-over for his round and 2-over for the week.

Neither Thomas nor McIlroy could be reached for comment after their rounds. Zlatoris was, and he insisted on staying the course a day after shooting a near-clean, bogey-free 65 in the second round.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the 16th hole during round three of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 21, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland plays his second shot on the 16th hole during round three of the 2022 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club on May 21, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images

“I have nothing to lose,” Zatoris said. “I know Mito played an incredible round today. You have to go out and get it. Everyone has to go out and earn it. Keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully that results in the lowest score.”

“I was lucky enough to grow up with Lanny Wadkins and Lee Trevino and obviously those guys are big champions. Scotsman [Scheffler] and Jordan [Spieth] also. Just stick to my game Got nothing to lose [Sunday]. I know I play really good golf and hopefully at the end of the day that adds up to the lower score.”

Fitzpatrick, who said he thinks he has a score to settle in the majors, has played in 28 of them and has only one top-10 to do so.

“I spoke extensively with my coaches about my big record,” he said. “You know, I always told them I just wanted to give myself a chance. If you really look, I didn’t have that many chances to win. I look forward to it more than anything.”

Ancer, who played college golf at the University of Oklahoma, had plenty of local support this week. He too was unfazed by the crazy weather swings, from sweltering heat to strong winds to Saturday’s temperature drop into the 50s.

“I feel like we’ve played in anything and everything in my collegiate career,” he said. “I enjoy the wind and feel like where I grew up and it was windy at junior college in Norman too. The wind poses a major challenge on this golf course in particular, where you have to be very precise.”

https://nypost.com/2022/05/21/unheralded-mito-pereira-grabs-lead-at-pga-championship/ The unheralded Mito Pereira takes the lead at the PGA Championship

JOE HERNANDEZ

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