Watney leads by 3 at PGA, Woods 10 back (AP)

Aug 15th, 2010 | By sportsnews | Category: Sports

SHEBOYGAN, Wisconsin (AP)—The only number that matters at the U.S. PGA
Championship is on the scorecard, not the birth certificate.

Golf has been trending toward youth over the past several years, and on a
Saturday at Whistling Straits, the final major of the year turned out to be a
showcase of the next generation.

Leading the way was Nick Watney, who fired off five birdies in the opening
seven holes, leading the 29-year-old American to a 6-under 66 and a three-shot
lead.

Right behind were 26-year-old American Dustin Johnson and 21-year-old Rory
McIlroy
of Northern Ireland. Both had left their marks in the majors already
this year, Johnson as the 54-hole leader in the U.S. Open, McIlroy for tying a
record with a 63 at St. Andrews in the opening round of the British Open.

Of the top six on the leaderboard—five of those players in their 20s—
none has won a major. The last time the top six contenders were this green in
the PGA Championship was in 1992 at Bellerive, which Nick Price won for the
first of his three majors.

“There’s some really good players that haven’t won a major,” Watney said.
“And all the guys that have, at one point they hadn’t won, either. So you’ve
got to start somewhere. And hopefully, tomorrow will be my day.”

Watney only struggled on the last, when he went from deep rough on the right
to deep rough in the side of a hill left of the green. He did well to make a
bogey and finish three long days at 13-under 203.

Johnson found enough accuracy to go with his awesome power for a 67, giving
him a shot at redemption. He had a three-shot lead at the U.S. Open, only to
lose it all on the second hole on his way to an 82.

He figures that will only help him.

“Any time you can be in that situation and know what to expect, you’ve
definitely got a leg up on the other people,” Johnson said. “Because not
everyone has been in that situation of being in the lead in a major. So I’m
pretty confident. And I’ve been playing really well this week. I’m looking
forward going into tomorrow.”

McIlroy also had a 67 while playing with Johnson, and while he made six
birdies, he saved his round with a number of par putts from the 6-foot range
that could easily have dropped him down the leaderboard.

Is he ready at age 21 to become the youngest major champion since John
McDermott was 20 when he won the 1911 U.S. Open?

“The players are just getting so much better at a younger age,” McIlroy
said. “Their confidence is so high that they can take on shots that other guys
just might not have thought they could. I don’t know if that’s because most of
the guys swing it better out here now or whatever, but it does seem the younger
guys are coming out and they’re just a lot better and more ready to win.”

And there are a lot of them, especially at Whistling Straits.

Jason Day, the 22-year-old Australian, had a 66 and was in the group at
9-under 207 that included Martin Kaymer, the 25-year-old from Germany who has
top 10s in the past two majors. Kaymer shot 67.

The only player among the top six not in his 20s was the biggest surprise of
all—Liang Wenchong, a 32-year-old from China who set the course record with a
64. He didn’t start playing the game until he was 15.

Some of these guys already were dreaming of winning majors at that age.

As for Tiger Woods? His only hope is to shoot his best round of his strange
season on Sunday and try to earn a Ryder Cup berth.

Woods scrambled brilliantly in the morning to finish off the second round
with a 70 and get within five shots, but had to rally for a 72 in his third
round on a day when the average score was 71 in soft conditions and relative
calm.

Woods wound up 10 shots behind. He likely will need to finish at least in
seventh place alone to make the Ryder Cup team.

“I just want to play a good round and see where that puts me,” Woods said.

Five of the last six major champions had never won one before, the exception
Phil Mickelson this year at the Masters. To see so much inexperience at the top
— not to mention youth—is not nearly as surprising in a year in which
27-year-old Louis Oosthuizen won the British Open at St. Andrews, and
30-year-old Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland won at Pebble Beach.

“I guess you could say the younger guys are starting to play a lot
better,” Johnson said. “We’re starting to contend in majors. We’re definitely
moving forward, that’s for sure.”

Major championship experience is lurking.

Former Masters champion Zach Johnson shot a 69 and was in a group at 8-under
208 that included former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk (70) and former PGA
champion Steve Elkington (67).

The course was such a pushover that 19 players shot in the 60s. But at least
everyone could see, ending two days of fog delays that forced some to play 30
holes on Saturday.

Mickelson continued to hit tee shots all over the course, and it finally
caught up with him in a round of 73 that put in a tie for 48th.

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