Will Zatoris takes a one-shot lead in the PGA Championship; Bubba Watson fires a record-breaking 63


 Will Zatoris takes a one-shot lead in the PGA Championship;  Bubba Watson fires a record-breaking 63

TULSA, Oklahoma — The Oklahoma wind swept through Southern Hills and then quickly left town in time for Will Zatoris, Bubba Watson and yes, even Tiger Woods to bring a sleepy PGA Championship to life on Friday.

Zulatoris hit the ball on the button, whether in the fairway or the rough, and in milder afternoon conditions, scored three straight birdies for a 5-under 65 and a one-shot lead over Mito Pereira of Chile.

Pereira missed a 7-foot putt on his last hole and had to settle for a 64.

About an hour later, Watson missed a 25-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole and still hit the 18th round of 63 in PGA Championship history.

Woods wasn’t as spectacular, but he did make a pair of 15-foot par putts and two birdies on his injured right leg for a 69 to make the cut in his second straight major.

He’s still 12 shots behind 25-year-old Zatoris, a prolific ball forward who quickly realized timing was everything.

“Obviously we were lucky with the draw,” he said. “I played the last eight holes with little wind. But take it if you can get it.”

His side of the draw was the least windy on Thursday morning and Friday afternoon and it showed. Of the 22 underperforming players going into the weekend, only five endured the worst of Oklahoma’s infamous winds.

Justin Thomas focused on every shot, even short putts, in gusts that topped 30 mph in the morning and he was justifiably proud of another 67 that put him at the top of the leaderboard. And then all he could do was sit on the couch in his rental house and watch as the trees stopped swaying, the flags stopped flapping, and the birds kept descending.

Now it’s 36 more holes with even wilder weather – temperatures in the low 60’s for Saturday with a heavy chance of rain – and a level playing field.

Zulatoris was at 9-under-131, the lowest 36-hole finish in eight Southern Hills majors, and will be in the final group with Pereira. Nobody has won on the PGA Tour.

“I think it was lucky to get that draw,” said Pereira. “Sometimes you get the bad draw, sometimes the good one. But today the wind was definitely in the back nine, there was almost none.”

Thomas was at 6-under 134, with Watson another shot behind.

Rory McIlroy was on the good side of the draw and couldn’t capitalize on it. He didn’t make a birdie until the 13th hole. That was his only one in a round of 71, although three par saves eventually kept him in the lead within five.

“It’s a long way, there’s still a lot of golf left,” McIlroy said. “We will see a completely different golf course over the next two days because of the wind direction. He will play very differently. And that makes him very interesting.”

Jordan Spieth, playing alongside McIlroy and Woods, was finally back on par for the tournament until he hit the water on the 18th for a bogey and a 69. He was 10 shots behind in his bid to pick up the major that kept him out of the career Grand Slam.

Zlatoris has some history in Southern Hills, winning the 2014 Trans-Mississippi Amateur when the last two laps were washed out by rain. His game works well here and it shows.

He opened with a shot from the rough that dropped 2 feet down the length of the green. He hit another through a gap in the trees at 7 feet. Not only did he have a bogey-free card, all five of his birdies were within 8 feet.

Zalatoris has a lot of experience in the majors. On his debut in 2021, he finished second in the Masters behind Hideki Matsuyama. This is his eighth major and he already has four top 10 finishes.

“These are tough golf courses where I really have the best chance with my shot,” he said. “Obviously those greens aren’t easy, but hitting them at the right levels and having the 15- to 25-foot greens where I’m not pacing is huge.”

The weekend will not feature Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, who stumbled heavily down the course and ended with a double bogey for a 75 to miss the cut – 4-over par – by two.

Jon Rahm thought he might have worked his way back into the mix with a 69 to get to 2-over-142 and was skeptical about predicting a calming wind.

“They said the wind would drop this afternoon. No it is not. It’s Oklahoma,” Rahm said. “It will remain just as windy as it is here.”

If only.

Watson had never scored more than 68 points in his previous 49 rounds of the PGA Championship. And then he dropped nine birdies and goes into the weekend with a chance. Woods in the 2007 PGA and Raymond Floyd in the 1982 PGA were the others with a 63 in Southern Hills. Both continued to win.

“Without the heat, the cloud cover softened it a bit. But when the wind dropped you just felt like you had a chance to score,” said Watson.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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