Savvy PGA move sets up Sunday showdown everyone wanted

Savvy PGA move sets up Sunday showdown everyone wanted

ST. LOUIS — Good for the PGA of America for letting the dogs hunt this week at Bellerive Country Club.

There’s a lesson to be learned (USGA, are you listening?) from letting the major championship golf course be, allowing nature to take its course and letting the world’s best players attack the course — par be damned.

There’s a lesson to be learned from not being obsessed with dictating what the final outcome and score will be by manipulating the playing field.

Granted, the stifling summer heat and saturating humidity have dictated how soft and receptive the fairways and greens have been at Bellerive. But still: The PGA of America did not go into panic mode at the sight of all that birdie red bleeding onto the leaderboards and try to play hide-and-seek with the pin positions.

In fact, the golf course was set up for Saturday’s third round — moving day — with accessible pins that begged for birdies and big moves up the leaderboard.

The PGA of America, to its credit, doesn’t give a damn if the winning score is 2-over or 20-under.

And you know what the philosophy has produced this week at the PGA?

Cream rising to the top of the leaderboard, which is exactly what all golf fans should want in their major championships.

Instead of torturing the world’s best players into submission (see the USGA’s Shinnecock U.S. Open Saturday setup), let the players play.

Consider what the PGA leaderboard looks like entering Sunday’s final round:

  • Two-time reigning U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is in the lead at 12-under, two shots clear of Adam Scott.
  • Three shots behind Koepka are Rickie Fowler, the best player yet to win a major, rising young stud Jon Rahm and long-bomber and local boy of sorts, Gary Woodland.
  • Among those who are four shots back are Tiger Woods, seeking his first major championship victory in more than 10 years, defending champion Justin Thomas and Jason Day.
  • At 7-under and with a chance includes reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari and Kevin Kisner.

Notice a common denominator here?

Stars, stars and more stars. Making birdies and moves up the leaderboard. In contention to win the year’s fourth and final major championship.

Isn’t that what we all want out of our major championships?

The golf fans who enjoy seeing the pros struggle (as if the common weekend hacker can relate) is understandable — but only to a small degree. Those tournaments are never as memorable as the ones dominated by low scores and dramatic shifts on the leaderboard.

It seems very likely the PGA Championship scoring record of 265, set by David Toms in 2011, will be broken — if not shattered — by day’s end Sunday.

So what?

“Records are meant to be broken, I guess,” said Koepka, who with a final-round 66 would set the new PGA Championship record.

“The PGA Championships can be won at 3- or 4-under and they can be won at 14- or 15-under, and I don’t think the PGA of America really cares,’’ Jordan Spieth said. “I think you look at it as a probably a really challenging, difficult PGA Tour event with the aura of a major championship and certainly the most difficult field in all of golf, the most competitive field in all of golf.

“They want a stern, tough test, but if conditions like we’re getting [this week] are going to dictate a championship then they’re not going to go out there and try and prove anything or do anything or mess up a course or try and do too much to bring a score somewhere.’’

Amen to that.

Go ahead and take a gander at the PGA leaderboard entering Sunday’s final round and make the argument that you’d prefer the tedious four-day dental appointment that the U.S. Opens often resemble to this.

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