PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Oak Hill can make a midsummer day feel dark. The fairways are crowded by rows of drooping old spruces and black-barked oaks, and the clubhouse, a citadel of fading brick and old beams with creeping ivy, looks haunted. It’s a narrow, choking, penal place, and the field in the PGA Championship reacted to this ambiance appropriately in the third round: with throat tightening.
For two days pelting rains had rendered the par-70 Oak Hill soft and lulling, but the golf course regained its dreaded old demeanor Saturday, helped by a chilly wind that made you shiver in the sun. It was treacherous weather, periods of dead calm followed by cold gusts, and the scores seemed to rise and fall with them, with 32 double bogeys for the day. It took a stoic to deal with it, and that was Jim Furyk, who refused to scare after two bogeys in his first three holes and went on to a 68 to lead at 9-under-par 201. “I haven’t let too much bother me,” Furyk said.
As opposed to Adam Scott, who went from confident to traumatized in the space of a single hole, the 439-yard 16th, where he missed the fairway off the tee and took three hacks in long grass that seemed to curl around his ankles like fingers. Double bogey.
Historically, Oak Hill has been a brutally severe venue: In the five previous major championships it had hosted, it had given up just 10 scores under par over 72 holes. But with the rains Thursday the greens were as soft as candy bars, and 35 players broke par. When the weather finally dried out and the wind came up, it was Oak Hill’s turn to bite back — and it took revenge on the field as if it were an animate object.
“It’s a good test out there,” Lee Westwood said after a 68 that put him in a tie for seventh. “I didn’t want to go out throwing darts out there again. I wanted it to have some teeth to it really.” For the day, the course played an average of two strokes over par at 72, but that didn’t begin to illustrate the damage it did to some players’ egos.
It humiliated Phil Mickelson, the British Open champion, who carded a triple bogey, a double bogey and five bogeys on his way to a 78. Twice when he tried to hack shots out of the deep rough, he was only able to scuff the ball a few yards. He was in 74th place, next to last among the players who made the cut.
Tiger Woods couldn’t score at Oak Hill even when it played easy, and his third round was another slashing struggle. He bogeyed the first and third holes, and the round never got better, a 73 for a total of 214, 4 over par. “Well, it was hard for me,” an uncharacteristically plaintive Woods said. “I didn’t play very well today. I didn’t hit very good, didn’t make anything, kept blocking every putt. So it was a tough day.”
Normally Saturday is known as “moving day,” but in many cases, players who had been near the lead moved back. U.S. Open champion Justin Rose had two double bogeys in his first five holes en route to a 77. Martin Kaymer began the day just four strokes off the lead at 4 under. After a triple bogey and eight bogeys he was at plus-4.
Jason Dufner, the second-round leader after a 63 that tied the best round ever at a major, shot a 1-over 71 to trail by a stroke and was fortunate to still be so close after weathering a double bogey at the fifth hole, one of the most punitive on the course. A thin-necked 428 yards straddled by oaks with a rocky creek along the right side, it produced five double bogeys and two triples for the day. Dufner’s double came when his tee shot drifted right in a matrix of trees, clocked the upper branches of an oak, rebounded even farther to the right and came to rest in the milky water of the creekbed, under an ancient willow so gnarled that it that looked like something out of Tolkien.
Spectators crowded around his ball like rubberneckers at a roadside crash. Dufner stalked down the fairway and arrived and stared down in the thick brown wash. He hitched his pants, then drew a club from his bag and hurled it down on the ground in frustration. After some housecleaning, brooming leaves away and measuring his drop and swatting the willow branches away from his shoulders, he slugged an iron shot that soared toward the green and settled in the thick rough just to the right of it. He gouged a pitch shot that ran 12 feet by, and he missed the putt.
The players who fared the best were the straight hitters, who avoided the deep shade of all those trees. Among the best at staying out of trouble was Furyk, who hit 11 of 14 fairways and managed to scramble wisely when he missed one. At the 497-yard 18th, he drove in the deep rough but saved par by laying up short of the green and then cutting a wedge to 10 feet and sinking the putt.
“I’ve been relaxed this week and felt very calm out there,” Furyk said. “Even when I haven’t hit good shots, I haven’t let it bother me at all, and that’s why, on a bad start today, I was able to come back and turn it into a good round.”
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.