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Koepka, a difficult client on a difficult day to lead the PGA Championship

PITTSFORD, NY (AP) — Brooks Koepka says he thrives in the majors because those are the toughest tests. The PGA Championship was all on a rainy Saturday at Oak Hill, as was Koepka.

Koepka was at his best even in occasional showers, and he took the 54-hole lead for the second consecutive major. He had a 4-under 66 – the round low at Oak Hill for the second straight day – and led by a stroke over Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners.

Now he has to finish it. Koepka failed to do that last month at the Masters when he had a two-shot lead, played it safe and shot 75 and Jon Rahm followed him to win by four.

“I know what I did,” Koepka said. “I promise I won’t show up like this tomorrow.”

The last player to score lowest in the second and third rounds of a major championship was Tiger Woods at the 1997 Masters, which he won by a record 12 shots.

Koepka, who was 6 under 204, won’t have it easy.

Conners played Oak Hill like a US Open – that’s what this PGA Championship looks like – opening with two birdies and 13 pars that kept him ahead for so much of the wet and grueling day. And then a swing changed everything.

He was in a bunker to the right of the 16th fairway when he hit the ball so thinly that it disappeared into the edge of the sodden turf. It was deep in the turf, and Conners had to drop it into a gnarly rough atop a mound framing the bunker. He did well to advance that to the green in thicker grass and took a double bogey.

Conners, in charge for so long, had to settle for a 70.

Hovland overcame mistakes early with three birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn. But then the Norwegian failed to capitalize on the scoring streak – our 13, 14 and 15 – and took a bogey from the bunker on the 18th hole for a 70.

He will be in the final group of a major for the second time. Hovland tied with Rory McIlroy at St. Andrews last summer and finished with a 74.

Absent from all that activity was Scottie Scheffler, the No. 2 player in the world, who started with two straight bogeys and didn’t birdie – his only of the round – until the 14th hole. He shot a 73, but is still very present.

The same goes for Bryson DeChambeau, who played with Koepka and took a double bogey on the sixth hole for the second straight day. He threw a 70 and was three shots down.

McIlroy was about like the weather – promising then bleak – in a wild round that ended with a par save for a 69. He was among just seven under-par players, but still five shots behind the four-time major champion Koepka.

When asked if there was a 65 at Oak Hill, McIlroy said he should avoid mistakes on his map.

“I have to believe there’s a score like that there because… I’m going to have to shoot something like that to have a chance of winning,” he said.

And he will need help from Koepka, who has a 54-hole lead in his second straight major.

Oak Hill in nice weather was a brute. The rain fell early in the game and never really stopped except for a brief burst of sunshine and shadows, then the showers returned. The fairways were framed by umbrellas. The rough was thick and wet. McIlroy was among the players who wore their caps backwards to prevent rain from dripping onto the bill.

Koepka rolled, and he was particularly sharp with the putter on the back nine. He birdied a 15-foot putt on the 12 and made an 18-foot one on the par-5 13. The real boost came on the 17, when he rolled one just outside 45 feet.

“I felt like it was a bit more aggressive today,” Koepka said of his putt. “Especially on the back nine, and the putts started hitting the bottom of the hole.”

And then came Conners’ gaffe on 16, Hovland’s bogey on 18, and Koepka was all alone atop the standings as he chased a fifth Major and a third PGA Championship. Also at stake: a victory propels him to second place in the Ryder Cup standings. Because Koepka plays for LIV Golf, he can only earn Ryder Cup points in major tournaments.

Justin Rose joined Scheffler at 2-under 208, still very close in range. And no one seems to be having more fun than California club pro Michael Block. It had another round of 70 and tied for eighth, the first professional club to be in the top 10 after 54 holes since 1990 at Shoal Creek.

Even Koepka’s superb run along the back nine didn’t seem enough to catch Conners, then that changed on the 16th hole. Conners swayed and then tried to figure out where he was going, looking up, until he realized he had shot him right in the lip.

“I wish I could get that one back,” he said.

Scheffler would love to get his opening seven holes back – four bogeys, and it could have been worse. Is pulled out of the wet rough the seventh landed at Allen’s Creek and jumped to the other side. He was bogey-free on the last 11 holes.

“I didn’t shoot myself on a day when the conditions were tough and I didn’t have my best gear,” Scheffler said. “I hung on well and didn’t post the number I wanted, but I’m still only four back tomorrow. And if I go out and do a good lap, I think I’ll have a decent chance.


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