Watson closes in on PGA Championship lead before late fade

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — It's been a long time since Bubba Watson contended for the PGA Championship. And he was right there for a while on Saturday.

An up-and-down third round at blustery Southern Hills put Watson tantalizingly close to the lead until he faded late with some trouble finding fairways and greens over the back nine. A putter that was razor sharp in a round of 63 on Saturday blunted down the back stretch.

Still, a 3-over 73 was good enough to keep the 43-year-old within sight of the youth movement leading the championship heading into Sunday's final round. But he could have literally been within touching distance on the first tee if not for a swing that got a little too loose in the late afternoon.

He’ll start the final round tied for seventh, seven strokes behind 27-year-old rookie leader Mito Pereira.

“Yesterday I made them all and today I missed them on the back nine,” Watson said of a putting stroke that was off by inches Saturday. “Wish they would have went in. Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I was wishing them instead of stroking them.”

The lefty with the buttoned up collar hasn't won a major since the 2014 Masters or any tournament since 2018, and the galleries tried to push him along Saturday. His record at the PGA has been dismal since losing a playoff at Whistling Straits in 2010. His best finish over the last 12 years has been a tie for 21st, and he missed the cut four times.

Watson can still lean into career experience on Sunday when the pressure starts to build. His 12 career PGA Tour wins, including two Masters, towers over anything the six players in front of him have done. Among them, the top six have two PGA Tour wins and eight in Europe.

“I have confidence that I’ve done it before, but these guys are so good,” Watson said. “One ball bounces your way, hits a tree, bounces into the fairway, you make a chip shot, you hole it from the bunker; it’s really not about somebody’s won more than you. It’s just the breaks at the right time.”

The pressure seemed to be bearing down on Pereira when he had a stretch of four bogeys in five holes. That allowed Watson to pull within one stroke of the lead. Yet he couldn't close that last gap.

Pereira settled and finished with a flurry. Watson bogeyed the 10th and dropped three more strokes over the final four holes, sending him on a steady slide down from the top of the leaderboard.

Watson jumped up into the mix with that stunning 63 on Friday that tied the lowest score in PGA Championship history. The previous two times that happened at Southern Hills, by Raymond Floyd in 1982 and Tiger Woods in 2007, they went on to the lift the Wanamaker Trophy.

That big silver cup would look good next to a pair of green jackets.

“Just because I shoot 63 doesn’t mean you’re going to win,” Watson said.

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