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December 10, 2017

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After year of boring majors, a shootout at the PGA


Jeff Roberson / AP

Rickie Fowler watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, in Louisville, Ky.

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Rory McIlroy hits out of the bunker on the third hole during the second round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club on Friday, Aug. 8, 2014, in Louisville, Ky.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — After a year of dull finishes at the majors, the PGA Championship was turning into quite a shootout.

Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Henrik Stenson made Sunday at Valhalla a can-you-top-this flurry of birdies and eagles, a striking change from the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open.

Only it may not end until Monday.

A rain delay of nearly two hours made it unlikely the leaders would be able to finish before nightfall.

The way this was going, it will be worth the wait.

Fowler claimed the top spot at 15 under with a 30-foot birdie putt at the 10th. Mickelson pulled even with his playing partner in the next-to-last group, rolling in a 10-footer for birdie at the 11th.

Right behind them in the final pairing, McIlroy bounced back from a sluggish start with a brilliant second shot into the par-5 10th, the ball curling up 7 feet from the hole. He rolled that in for an eagle that pulled him within one stroke of the lead.

Stenson, seeking the first major title for a Swedish male, had five birdies on the front side and also was one shot back at 14 under.

Fowler got off to a rocky start, taking bogey at the second hole after driving into a creek. But he capped a run of three straight birdies by chipping from 20 feet at No. 5, snapping what was then a five-way tie for the lead.

Fowler was a runner-up at both the U.S. Open and the British Open, and tied for fifth at the Masters. This was shaping up as his best chance yet at his first major title; if nothing else, it was a lot more exciting that the first three.

Bubba Watson pulled away to win the Masters, Martin Kaymer cruised to an eight-shot win at Pinehurst, and McIlroy took a six-shot lead to the final day at Royal Liverpool and was never seriously challenged.

Coming off his victories in the Open and at Firestone, McIlroy teed off with a one-stroke lead. Boy Wonder plodded through much of front nine, taking a couple of bogeys while others were charging up the board. A birdie at the par-5 seventh steadied his stroke, and the eagle got him right back in the thick of things.

Ernie Els and Jimmy Walker both shot 6-under 65s, but it didn't look as though their 11-under 273s were going to be quite enough. Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, playing in the final group with McIlory, faded with a 1-over 36 on the front side.

Play was suspended for nearly two hours when a storm swept through the club on the outskirts of Louisville. Workers brought out squeegees, trying furiously to push standing water off the course. Towels were used to dry the tee boxes.

About an inch of rain fell in 45 minutes, but it took longer to get the course back in playing shape. The sun came out after the rain passed, giving it the feel of a sauna as the temperature climbed toward the upper 80s.

During the 1-hour, 51-minute delay, ducks wallowed in an impromptu creek running down the middle of a fairway. Sergio Garcia rolled up his pants and fled to the cover of the clubhouse, splashing along the way. Fowler had some fun with Billy Horschel, who was walking around barefooted, having removed his soaked socks and shoes.

The second suspension of the tournament — play also was halted for less than an hour Friday morning — made it likely that the final major of the year would stretch into Monday. McIlroy and Wiesberger were not able to tee off until 4:19 p.m. EDT, and another was moving into the Louisville area.

If there's a tie at the end of 72 holes, a three-hole playoff would be required.

That would surely have to be held Monday.

There were eight players within three shots of the lead, with Jason Day and Mikko Ilonen also in the mix.

Players complained about not being allowed to use preferred lies on the muddy course.

"The ball should have been played up, simple," Graeme McDowell said. "It's casual water everywhere. The ball is picking up mud. ... Common sense has to prevail at some point. Let's lift, clean and place this thing."

Ian Poulter said he had to take relief on nearly fairway because of standing water. Twice, he had to place his ball in the rough to get a dry spot.

Colin Montgomerie, who had to finish the 18th hole after the rain delay, noted that the British Open used a two-tee start in the third round for the first time in its 154-year history. He said the PGA of America made a mistake by not doing the same, which would have provided more leeway to complete the round.

"Nobody wants to be here Monday — nobody," Montgomerie said.

He said it was clear the PGA had to revise the schedule to send off the final group by 4:19 p.m. to have any chance of finishing, even though the course was "borderline." The remaining tee times were compressed to nine-minute intervals, instead of 10.

"They either go now or they don't finish," Montgomerie said.

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