TULSA, Okla. — Tiger Woods, still struggling in his comeback after severe leg injuries in a car crash last year, has withdrawn from the PGA Championship.
Woods, a four-time winner of the event, was limping and moving stiffly Saturday. He shot a nine-over par 79. After just making the cut on Friday, Woods slumped to 12-over par for the tournament, which is tied for last. Saturday’s outcome was the highest score Woods has had during 22 PGA Championship appearances, which spans 81 rounds.
His halting gait and deteriorating game was so striking, Woods was asked afterward if he still planned to play in Sunday’s fourth round.
“Well, I’m sore,” I answered. “I know that is for a fact. We’ll do some work and see how it goes.”
He did not address if he would contend in another tournament.
Others struggled in the weather.
The last time the PGA Championship was played at Tulsa’s Southern Hills Country Club in 2007 temperatures reached 105 degrees. But that was during August in Oklahoma.
The PGA Championship is now contested in May and Saturday’s third round of the event brought temperatures in the 50s, blustery winds and a field unnerved by the taxing conditions.
With shots made unpredictable by swirling gusts, a bevy of golfers jockeyed for the lead, including unheralded Mito Pereira of Chile, who charged to a commanding edge over his colleagues at the midpoint of his round. But the second-round leader, Will Zalatoris, who has four top 10 finishes in his last five major championships, caught Pereira several holes later.
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Then Cameron Young, a young rising star on the PGA Tour, and Bubba Watson, a 43-year-old two-time Masters champion, charged within a stroke of the lead.
When play concluded Saturday evening, Pereira, who is 27 and playing in just his second major golf championship, had confidently, even boldly, regained the top spot on the leaderboard. After a third-round 69, he will enter Sunday’s final round with a three-stroke lead over Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick of England.
Pereira, after a mid-round stumble, vaulted past the other third-round contestants with consecutive birdies on the 13th and 14th holes. Then, with a packed 18th green grandstand cheering for him, he closed out his day by sinking a 27-foot birdie putt to move to nine-under for the tournament.
While Pereira, who is ranked 100th worldwide, is not a household name in professional golf, he has had three top 20 finishes on the PGA Tour this year and won three times on the Korn Ferry Tour, the tour’s top minor league circuit.
Zalatoris had a bumpy start Saturday, shooting a four-over 39 on the front nine but steadied himself by curing some of his putting woes to shoot a rocky 73.
After bogeying his first two holes, Fitzpatrick was five-under for the rest of his round to shoot 67.
Young, whose father is David Young, the longtime golf professional at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in the suburbs of New York, made a late charge when he eagled the 296-yard par 4 17th hole by driving the green and making a short putt. With four birdies in his round, Young shot 67 and was in fourth place at five-under overall.
After a sparkling front nine, Watson, who knocked his ball into seven bunkers during Saturday’s round, faltered and shot 73 and was tied for seventh.
Woods’s troubles on Saturday were not doubt exacerbated by the Tulsa weather. With a back that has been operated on five times, Woods has not enjoyed playing in cold, damp conditions for more than a decade because it reduces the flexibility and fluidity of his golf swing. He is also still adjusting to modifications to his game required as he continues his recovery from last year’s tumbling car crash, which shattered several bones in his lower right leg.
Those limitations were on full display even before Woods teed off Saturday morning when his rebuilt right leg gave way as he descended an incline next to a practice bunker and nearly collapsed into the sand. Woods had to use a golf club and a quick step with his left leg to remain upright.
Once his round began, it was obvious Woods’s reduced physical capabilities were going to dramatically affect his score. His tee shot on the second hole was driven into a creek and led to a bogey. He recovered with three pars but then bungled the 218-yard par 3 sixth hole. By then, Woods already looked in pain and he was especially having trouble hitting his irons the necessary distances. Several were not online either.
On the sixth hole, his tee shot was short and left and landed in a water hazard. After a penalty shot drop, his third shot from him was in the rough just off the green and a subsequent chip that needed to go about 30 yards traveled only half that distance. Two putts later, Woods had a triple bogey.
He then bogeyed six of his next seven holes. Woods appeared to be alternatively embarrassed and exasperated, but marched on. Always the grinder, he rallied for four pars and a birdie in his final five holes to avoid shooting 80.
“I didn’t hit the ball very well and got off to not the start I needed to get off to,” Woods said later. “I thought I hit a good tee shot down 2 and ended up in the water, and just never really got any kind of momentum on my side.
“I couldn’t get off the bogey train there. As I said, I just didn’t — I didn’t do anything right. I didn’t hit many good shots. Consequently, I ended up with a pretty high score.”