Opportunity KnocksMay 18, 2019

PGA Championship 2019: Harold Varner III draws short straw, but plans to enjoy final-round pairing with Brooks Koepka anyway

PGA Championship - Round Three
Christian Petersen/PGA of AmericaFARMINGDALE, NEW YORK - MAY 18: Harold Varner III of the United States chips onto the seventh green during the third round of the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 18, 2019 in Farmingdale, New York. (Photo by Christian Petersen/PGA of America/PGA of America via Getty Images)

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Sunday at the PGA Championship is shaping up to be an 18-hole coronation for Brooks Koepka, although contrary to popular belief, they are going to ask everybody to put their pegs in the ground and play a little golf. And even if it is one big Brooks fest at Bethpage Black, Harold Varner III is looking forward to photobombing the affair.

With a three-under 67, matching Saturday’s low score, the 28-year-old from North Carolina played his way into the final twosome with Koepka. Well aware he’ll start the final round seven strokes back, Varner still is looking forward to the experience.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Varner, who sits in a four-way tie for second through 54 holes at five under par. “It’s going to be a great day no matter what happens. This is what you practice for, and obviously I’m super excited. Just need to go home and eat and do it again. I’m super excited for the opportunity.”

Indeed, getting the opportunity to play in the final group in any PGA Tour event, let alone a major championship, is something that will be invaluable for the four-year tour pro whose experience in majors has been fairly miserable. Previously, Varner has played in two U.S. Opens, one Open Championship and one PGA. In those four starts, he’s missed three cuts and finished T-66 in the other (2016 Open at Troon).

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Still, Varner will enter Sunday with a fair bit of confidence. After playing the first 31 holes at Bethpage Black in two over par, he’s played the remaining 23 in seven under par. So what has been the difference in his play?

“Absolutely nothing,” Varner said. “You just saw some go in. I hit a lot of putts before that that didn’t go in. No, nothing changed. I think you just have to do a really good job of competing out here. You know, when you mess up, just hang in there, you know, because if you just—you miss a beat somewhere, you’re going to make double real quick, I think.”

Varner has tried to have this same attitude all season on the PGA Tour, although the results have been mixed. In 17 starts, he has made the cut in only nine events. When he has played on the weekend, however, he’s done fairly well, posting four top-15 finishes, including a T-6 at Mayakoba last fall.

Getting to the weekend, though has been tricky of late. In his last seven start, he’s only made the cut twice and finished no better than T-23.

Perhaps that’s why, even if the Wanamaker Trophy is out of his grasp, Varner also is keenly aware that there’s plenty on the line on Sunday. A second-place finish pays more than $1 million, and the World Rankings and FedEx Cup points on the line are enough to secure his status through the end of the year. And a top-four showing gets him into the U.S. Open, Open Championship and Masters.

“I’m super excited,” Varner said. “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen out there? I'll be all right.”

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