SHEBOYGAN, Wis. - Sunday afternoon arrived early at the PGA Championship. That is how it seemed on a benign day Saturday when all of a sudden, nerves took over, and so did Jordan Spieth.
The year's two-time major champion had seemed to be adrift in a birdie-and-eagle barrage beside Lake Michigan. He was breaking par here and there and losing ground, trailing by five strokes. Even Spieth was amazed when he looked at the leader board and saw that Jason Day was 16 under par. He recalled saying: "You've got to be kidding me. When is he going to slow down?"
Within minutes, it all changed, as if final-round heat had stormed in. Spieth birdied the 17th and 18th holes -- two of the toughest on Whistling Straits -- and Day made a double bogey while other contenders found various troubles. By the end, Spieth (13 under) was two shots off Day's lead and prepared for another major shot.
"I realized we don't get to play another event like this until April of next year. And that makes you think, 'Wow, there really are only a few of these and they are precious, and you need to make the most of them,' " Spieth said after he finished a bogey-free round of 7-under 65 and hugged his sister Ellie.
"When I think of this being the last major of the year, it's a little bit of a sad feeling because I really thoroughly enjoy playing in majors," he said.
In those four big tournaments this year, he is an aggregate 50 under par. Which is not to say that he is a cinch Sunday. He and Day were paired in the final round of the British Open and neither of them won.
But major championships do require an extraordinary mix of aggressiveness and poise. They are not meant to be as easy as all of the leaders were making it appear for much of Saturday. Until Day hit into a bunker on No. 15, failed to get out on his first try and made a double-bogey 6, only one of the top eight had been over par on any one hole.
Then a major championship broke out. Matt Jones, who was three ahead on the front nine and made a bogey from the carpet in the luxury suite along the ninth fairway, bogeyed 15 and 16 and double-bogeyed 17. Tony Finau hit his tee shot off a steep cliff on the par-3 17th and bogeyed, then followed with another on 18. Both are at 10 under.
Justin Rose had a shot to supplant Spieth from the final group, but bogeyed 18.
To his credit, Day did recover with a birdie on the 17th. "Today was a good day," the leader said. "I didn't know who I was playing with. And I'm playing with Spieth. So it should be an exciting round tomorrow."
It could be like playing with fire, the way Spieth finished: hitting fairways, getting approach shots close and making birdies on six of his final eight for a 30 on the back nine. Now he has a chance to match Ben Hogan and Tiger Woods, the only ones to have won three modern-era majors in the same year.
"Just to try to get my name on the Wanamaker Trophy, that's about it. That's the only history I'll be thinking of when we step on the first tee," Spieth said.
Major Sundays are his favorite settings. "When you look back on your career years and years from now, you may not remember exactly what happened within a year, but you'll remember how many you've won and how many got away from you," he said. "So you look at it as a single major, as a chance to win this major. And in that there's enough fight left in us to finish this one off tomorrow, I believe."