You’d lose quite a lot of money betting on the halfway leader to convert at major championships. Especially if that player has never won as much as a tour event before.
That’s where we are with leaders Will Zalatoris and Mito Pereira going into the weekend at the PGA Championship at Southern Hills.
The Wanamaker Trophy has found itself passed into the hands of a first-time winner half the time it’s been played this century. It’s certainly not impossible it could happen this weekend.
Zalatoris, despite looking like he’s entirely constructed from pipecleaners, packs power and is currently having an exceptional run on these greens.
Plus, he’s played really well in the majors so far – four top ten finishes in six tries (five if you discount his withdrawal with injury at Sandwich last year).
The fact that he’s had no tour wins – just one on the secondary Korn Ferry Tour – is probably an outlier. You know he will win somewhere and why not here?
The wrong Chilean
Impressing in his @PGAChampionship debut 🔥
Mito Pereira is tied for the lead at 8-under in Tulsa. pic.twitter.com/C4qaTxFTAq
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) May 20, 2022
Pereira is the wrong Chilean – although my hunch pick Joaquin Niemann is still about on -1 – and a major surprise.
Previously he was mostly notable for a brief hot streak of three high finishes in the middle of last year. He was in that huge group that played sudden death for the bronze medal at the Olympics.
The 27-year-old – who had two years out repairing a broken collarbone – has managed to avoid the spotlight until now. The final group on a Saturday at a major will be an interesting challenge for him.
Despite the fact that the calming conditions allowed Zalatoris and Pereira to work some space between them and the field, you still prefer what’s coming behind them.
Justin Thomas was the best player in the “wrong” end of the draw, with two 67s. The player that defies the apparent disadvantage given them by the weather fates is always a good bet for the weekend – think Collin Morikawa at Sandwich last year.
Rory McIlroy’s far from done yet, but a 71 wasn’t quite what anyone envisaged after his opening round 65.
Some rain is expected Saturday, and a wet course is usually mana to Rory. But you feel he needs something in the mid-sixties, unless the callow leaders come back to the field.
Woods’ battle is like a tournament on its own
The most remarkable thing about Tiger Woods rallying to make the cut on Friday is that (at least) five different times over the previous 48 hours he looked completely done.
What we’re seeing here is something almost completely separate from the golf tournament going at the same time. It’s like watching two events at once, and at times the one not concerned with the actual winning of the tournament garners your prime attention.
Despite what he keeps saying, it is preposterous – despite Friday’s 69 – that he can win. He’s 12 shots in arrears of Will Zalatoris.
But really, the battle is not that. It’s one man’s struggle against the limitations of his broken body, and the will to endure and ignore pain.
The way he was on Thursday night, you’d have thought he’d have to be 80% cortisone merely to get to the first tee on Friday. After the double-bogey on 11, he looked absolutely spent.
But he putted the lights out down the stretch to play the final seven holes in two-under – on slow greens, which has often been his kryptonite.
You still wonder why he puts himself through this. But we get two more days of it to ponder.
Bob’s impressive record continues, but you sense his impatience
Robert MacIntyre has now made the cut in all his nine majors played over just three years. But you definitely sense he’s now profoundly underwhelmed by that.
He scrambled to a one-over 71 on Friday at Southern Hills, never quite being able to rely on his foundation strength, his driving game.
It seemed like he had 30 feet to the hole on every green, and the course is built like that. He bombed one on the short sixth and frightened the hole a few times. But he was out of position too often off the tee to really threaten.
“Just now I’m not quite on it,” Bob confessed. That’s probably been the case this season so far, but he’s still there.
The aim for the weekend now is to try to move up into the World’s Top 60. But that’s a tall order from 79th. There are two cut-offs for an US Open exemption if you’re in that ranking, the first on Monday and the second on June 6.
You understand the desire to play in majors and top events. You can clearly see his impatience to move on.
But I’m not alone in thinking Bob needs to play week-to-week. It’s been a while since he was in proper contention. Anywhere will suffice, not just the bigger events.