Koepka races to three-shot lead at third round mid-point

ST. LOUIS (Reuters) – Brooks Koepka stamped his foot on his rivals’ throats when he bolted three shots clear after a scorching front nine in the third round at the PGA Championship on Saturday. The quiet American, seeking his third major title in barely a year after winning the past two U.S. Opens, brought Bellerive to its proverbial knees with five birdies in an outward half of 30 strokes. And he made it look ever so easy, holing only one lengthy putt, with the other four birdies coming from tap-in range, or close to it. In moving to 13 under par, he started to squeeze the victory hopes of rivals, including Tiger Woods, who picked up four shots on the front nine before reeling off a bunch of pars, which under the circumstances did not really help. After 13 holes, the 14-times major champion trailed Koepka by five strokes. Fellow Americans Gary Woodland and Rickie Fowler were closest to Koepka at 10-under after nine holes. Compatriot Kevin Kisner (nine holes) and Australian Adam Scott (10 holes) were next, four shots off the pace, while defending champion Justin Thomas and British Open winner Francesco Molinari joined a group including Woods at eight under. Woods, 10 years removed from his 14th and most recent major title, displayed shades of his pre-back surgery greatness with a near-flawless front nine on the rain-soaked layout. Taking advantage of the marshmallow-soft greens, he hit a series of precise approach shots and converted with the putter to plunder five birdies. Only a three-putt bogey at the fifth hole halted his progress, though he put the setback quickly behind him to birdie the next three holes. A gallery more than a dozen deep among the massive sellout crowd lined every hole Woods played, and they were not disappointed — at least, those who could see through the crush of people. WEATHER DELAYS Woods was among 77 players who returned early on Saturday to complete the weather-delayed second round. Woodland was not among them, having finished his round on Friday morning. His 10-under-par 130 score matched the lowest halfway total in major championship history, and he enjoyed a one-shot halfway lead over Kisner, and a two-shot cushion over Koepka. The early start seemed to agree with Irishman Shane Lowry who grabbed birdies on two of his last three to complete an error-free 64 and join world number one Dustin Johnson, Belgian Thomas Pieters and South African Charl Schwartzel three off the halfway pace.

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