PGA Championship: Zalatoris, Pereira take charge

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Big names started the day at the top of the leaderboard at the PGA Championship. Big games finished it.

Playing in conditions far more favorable than the gusty morning, Will Zalatoris torched Southern Hills with a -5 round to reach -9 and hold the solo lead. Mito Pereira was one stroke better on the day, using a 6-under round to finish the day at -8. And Bubba Watson, of all people, had the best Friday of all, riding a 7-under day to finish four strokes off Zalatoris' lead.

Also in the mix, two former PGA Championship winners who could really use another major: Justin Thomas, who took the early clubhouse lead at -6 but could only watch as Zalatoris caught fire.

Rory McIlroy, the first-round leader, didn't play terribly, finishing his round at 1-over, but when the rest of the field is charging forward, standing still is the same thing as moving backward.

"There's a long way to go, a lot of golf left," McIlroy said. "We're going to see a completely different golf course the next two days because of the wind direction. It's going to play completely differently."

The players who got the early-late draw — early Thursday, late Friday — enjoyed a far different course than their counterparts, who had to fight through 40-mph wind gusts in the morning.

"It was lucky to get that draw," Pereira said. "Sometimes you get the bad draw, sometimes you get the good one. But today for sure the wind in the back nine, there was almost none."

The contrasts at the top of the leaderboard are stark — McIlroy is already one of the game's legends, Thomas is a major winner and Ryder Cup stalwart, Watson has two green jackets. Zalatoris and Pereira, on the other hand, have not even won their first PGA Tour events yet.

Pereira, who hails from Chile, has some familiarity with the course, having played for Texas Tech for a year in the mid-2010s. Since then, he's ground his way upward through golf's ranks. Prior to this weekend, his most notable achievement was making the bronze-medal playoff at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

"Got some experience of everything," he said, "good days, bad days, bad golf, really bad golf, good golf, but I think everything has helped me out to be here and to play like I'm playing now."

The most-quoted stat at the PGA Championship on Friday was the fact that in the seven previous majors contested at Southern Hills, the leader or co-leader at the halfway mark went on to win the tournament. Zalatoris brushed that off in his post-round media session.

"I've got a long 36 holes ahead of me," he said. "If you get on the wrong slopes it still has a little bit of the attitude of like Augusta, where you can hit 18 greens and walk off that place and shoot 80. I think history to me, it is what it is, but I'm going to go out and do my job, and hopefully it's enough at the end."

Zalatoris has a go-big-or-go-home run at the majors; he's placed in the top 8 at three of the last five, including top-6 finishes at the only two Masters he's played.

"I've kind of had an attitude with the majors, especially since the Masters, where I wanted to enjoy the experience as much as I could," he said after his round. "Looking back 20 years from now, I don't want to regret my attitude or anything like that."

If he keeps playing like this, he won't have any regrets whatsoever.

Will Zalatoris, on fire at the PGA Championship. (David Cannon/Getty Images)
Will Zalatoris, on fire at the PGA Championship. (David Cannon/Getty Images)

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at jay.busbee@gmail.com.