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Pereira leads as McIlroy charges in PGA title showdown

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Chile's Mito Pereira, in only his second major start, owned a three-stroke lead as Sunday's final round of the PGA Championship began at Southern Hills./AFP
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May 23, 2022 - 07:25 AM

TULSA, UNITED STATES — Chile’s Mito Pereira, making only his second major start, teed off with a three-stroke lead in Sunday’s final round of the PGA Championship as Rory McIlroy made a late charge.

Five rivals who also chased a first major victory were also hot on Pereira’s heels at Southern Hills in a tension-packed crucible to decide the Wanamaker Trophy.

“It’s by far the biggest tournament I’ve played, the biggest round of golf,” Pereira said. “I’ll just try to keep it simple, do the same things that I’ve been doing, not even look at the people around me.”

Not since John Daly in 1991 has a player won in his PGA Championship debut.

World number 100 Pereira, who quit golf for two years as a teen for other sports, missed the 2019 US Open cut in his prior major start.

The 27-year-old from Santiago could become only the third South American man to win a major title after Argentines Roberto de Vicenzo, the 1967 British Open champion, and Angel Cabrera, who took the 2007 US Open and 2009 Masters.

Pereira began on nine-under 201 after 54 holes with England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick and American Will Zalatoris sharing second on six-under.

Seventh-ranked McIlroy, who began nine back, birdied the second through fifth holes to show fast starts were on offer in cool, crisp conditions.

McIlroy missed the green and made bogey at the par-3 sixth, then lipped out a 43-foot birdie putt at the seventh to share fifth on 3-under after eight holes.

Zalatoris, last year’s Masters runner-up, has top-10 finishes in four of seven prior major starts.

Fitzpatrick, a seven-time winner on the DP World Tour, hasn’t cracked the top-six in 27 prior major starts.

World number 17 Fitzpatrick, 27, and 30th-ranked Zalatoris, 25, are the top-rated players without a US PGA Tour victory. Not since 2011 has a player won a major for his first US tour title.

American rookie Cameron Young was fourth on five-under with Mexico’s Abraham Ancer at three-under after an opening bogey alongside Irishman Seamus Power.

Young, 25, has three second-place finishes this season but missed the cut in his three prior major starts.

Ancer, 31, won his first PGA Tour title last August at the WGC St. Jude Invitational.

Power, 35, won his first PGA title at last July’s Barbasol Championship.

“Whoever is going to win it is going to earn it,” Power said. “Every hole here is pretty tough. You have no holes off. You have no easy shots.”

– Spieth, Rahm well back –

No one has ever rallied from more than seven strokes back in the last round to win the PGA, that historic fightback coming by American John Mahaffey in 1978 at Oakmont.

Three US major winners were trying to match that mark as they started seven adrift of Pereira — two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, 2017 PGA champion Justin Thomas and 49-year-old Stewart Cink, the 2009 British open winner.

Watson matched the course record at the 7,556-yard layout with a 63 in the second round, equaling the mark shared by Ray Floyd and Tiger Woods.

Woods drew huge crowds in the first three rounds at the PGA in his second comeback start after suffering severe leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, but the 15-time major winner withdrew after Saturday’s third round, when he limped to a 79, the third-worst round of his major career.

It was the first time Woods withdrew from a major as a professional. As an amateur, he pulled out of the 1995 US Open at Shinnecock, where he injured his wrist blasting out of deep grass.

Three-time major champion Jordan Spieth, who could have completed a career Grand Slam with a triumph, fired a 69 to finish on 284.

Second-ranked Jon Rahm, the reigning US Open champion from Spain, would have overtaken Masters winner Scottie Schefflera for the world number one ranking with a victory. He shot 68 to finish on 286.

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