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8 players within 5 strokes of Phil Mickelson can win PGA

Brooks Koepka in third round of 2021 PGA Championship
Brooks Koepka should have a good line on the PGA Championship on Sunday, being in the final pairing and 1 stroke behind leader Phil Mickelson.

Brooks Koepka, who is 1 shot back and in final pairing, will have best vantage point to make a run at Mickelson at Ocean Course

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – It seems cliché to ask how far is too far back to have a chance at catching the leader in the final round of major championship.

For Louis Oosthuizen, who was Phil Mickelson’s playing competitor in the final group of Saturday’s third round at the PGA Championship, the answer likely would have been different after he fell four strokes behind when the 50-year-old left-hander made the turn in 4-under 32. Oosthuizen knew that, even after he played the front nine of Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in even-par 36, he needed some help.

After watching Mickelson go bogey-double bogey on the 12th and 13th holes, Oosthuizen got an assist. Such is not only the nature of golf but the foibles of the Ocean Course.

“This golf course, you can make one little mistake and it can be costly,” Brooks Koepka said after he made bogey on the 18th hole to fall out of a tie with Mickelson but still in the last pairing for Sunday’s final round. “That's why it's a major championship. I think this place is perfect for it, and it will be fun to watch tomorrow.” (For scores, click here. For pairings, click here.)

Clearly, playing in the final group and just one shot back gives Koepka a perfect view of what will be transpiring, with only one man ahead of him.

“I can see what he's doing, and everybody else is in front of me, so I'll have a good idea on the leaderboard what's going on and just need to putt better,” Koepka said of his 2:30 p.m. EDT pairing. “Simple. If I strike it anything like I did the last three days, I'll have a chance.”

Which is why Koepka, with the sun setting Saturday, was on the practice putting green.

Just 50 yards away, Mickelson, Oosthuizen and Bryson DeChambeau were on the driving range, trying to fix what ailed them on Saturday.

Though Mickelson eventually made it to the putting green, the five-time major winner knew that his lead, which had stretched to five strokes after 10 holes Saturday, would not be the final tally.

Now the question: Is one shot enough?  

Generally, no, but many factors will come into play Sunday. The first is that the wind is forecast to shift, likely out of the west, making the par-5 second hole reachable by most of the competitors.

The PGA of America was expected to move up the tee on the third hole and make it a drivable par 4.

Those two early holes will change the dynamic of the tournament, and the remaining 15 holes will have to be attacked differently with the anticipated wind change.  

Players who were onsite last Sunday would have experienced the different wind, but the wind consistently has come out of the east all week in practice rounds. Also, though many players say it’s not a big factor, the greens were just a little slower because of additional humidity. As a result, many putts came up short in the third round.

According to the PGA of America, the green speeds were consistent during the first three days and will be running at the same pace on Sunday. Will players adjust? Will the wind be an issue?

“The wind out of the other direction tomorrow will be a whole new beast, but I need that,” Gary Woodland said after an even-par 72 left him at 2 under and in a tie for seventh through 54 holes. “Being five back right now, I think I need the wind to blow a little bit, and hopefully it does that tomorrow.”

If the wind blows, Woodland and the seven other players who are within five strokes of the lead have a chance. Of those eight players at 2 under or better who trail Mickelson, four have won major championships: Koepka, Oosthuizen, DeChambeau and Woodland. Based on their experience, look for the winner to come from that group.

“Anyone within four or five shots is still in for a good shot,” Oosthuizen said.

But sometimes, an outlier lies in wait. Jordan Spieth, a three-time major winner, shot 4-under 68 on Saturday. At even par and T-13, he is seven shots behind Mickelson. Spieth said he intends to attack every pin early and try to turn up the heat on the top of the leaderboard.

“The goal tomorrow is the same as today,” said Spieth, who lacks only the PGA’s Wanamaker Trophy to complete the career Grand Slam. “I didn't hit anything except a driver off the tees. It's, push the ball up as far as you can. If you don't pull off the shot, then you don't pull off the shot, but it's the best chance to make birdie on the hole, and that's my mindset tomorrow.”

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