IT’S fast becoming his favourite event. Twelfth at Oak Hill a year ago – it got him back in the season’s final major this time – Marc Warren, pictured below, took Route 66 to catapult himself up the leaderboard in the 96th US PGA Championship, writes Martin Dempster.
Out in the fourth group of the day after opening with a pair of 71s, the 33-year-old signed off his third round with a hat-trick of birdies for a five-under-par 66 on a Valhalla course that may be receptive after two days of rain but is by no means a pushover.
“I played well again today,” said a satisfied Warren afterwards. “I drove it really well and holed a few more putts than I did in the opening two rounds.”
Those putts included a 30-footer at the 17th, which was sandwiched between one from 15 feet dropping at the previous hole to him getting down in two putts for his birdie at the last.
“Due to the wet conditions, I was able to play aggressively and by going at a lot of the flags I gave myself a lot of chances,” added the two-times European Tour winner.
In taking most of them – his card contained seven birdies in total – he’d catapulted himself up 43 places to tenth at the time he finished and looked set to be in or around the top 20 heading into the final round.
“I’m now looking for the same again in the final round and there’s no reason why not the way I am playing,” he insisted.
Warren came in here lying 103rd in the world rankings – a spot below compatriot Russell Knox – and, having finished third in the Scottish Open then 39th in the Open Championship, an exciting second half of the season is taking shape for the Rutherglen man.
“I’m striking my irons well but it’s my driving in particular that has been really pleasing,” he said. “I’ve got a new driver in the bag – a Callaway V Series with a 8.9 degree loft – and it’s settled in straight away.”
Despite playing this week on what he described as a “big boys’ golf course”, Warren’s compatriot and 2007 World Cup-winning team-mate, Colin Montgomerie, also survived the cut in Kentucky by getting to the halfway stage on level par.
The 51-year-old was pleased, too, with his work for the third day running after the two Scots left in the field had headed out six hours before the halfway leader, Rory McIlroy.Montgomerie finished birdie-birdie for a 72 to sit on one over par, having been out on the course along with Warren when a heavy morning downpour threatened to stop play. “There was a big shower for one and a half holes and it was almost unplayable,” reported Montgomerie.
He described his 3-4 finish as “very good” and revealed he’d been impressed with his playing partner, last year’s Scottish Hydro Challenge winner Brooks Koepka.
“He’s the best young kid I’ve ever played with and is definitely a name to watch out for,” said the eight-times European Tour No.1 of the 24-year-old after watching Koepka catapult himself through the field on the back of a 66, which included a double-bogey at the last.
Highlighting the different distances they’d been faced with – Koepka is one of the game’s big-hitters – Montgomerie added: “He hit an 8-iron into the 16th then a 9-iron at the 17th whereas I can’t get there with a driver and 3-wood at the 16th then hit two woods at the 17th. So I’m off to eat my spinach now. I’ve had enough of cheesecake after playing with Brooks.”
Sitting alongside Warren on five-under, Koepka was aiming to go low again today in his bid to build on a splendid fourth-place finish behind Martin Kaymer in this year’s US Open. “I’ve just got to go fire another good one, hopefully shoot seven or eight-under to catch Rory or whoever it may be,” he said.
Englishman Danny Willett, world No.2 Adam Scott and Sergio Garcia also carded 66s, with American Hunter Mahan going one better as he made a thrust through the field.
“I got up and down when I had to, making those ten to 15-footers that are key in the major championships,” said the 32-year-old, who has failed to register a top-15 finish in eight previous appearances in this event.
Having birdied his final two holes on Friday to make the cut, Justin Rose, the Scottish Open champion, got to five-under at one point his third round before having to settle for a 67. “I had to go out with all guns blazing today as a I think 16-under or somewhere in that realm will be the winning total and I felt I could have got halfway there but it wasn’t to be.”