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October 1, 2014

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Fowler grabs lead at PGA, but it’s crowded at the top

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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.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Rickie Fowler has been a contender at every major championship this year.

For the first time, he grabbed the outright lead on Sunday.

Fowler chipped in from 20 feet for a birdie at the fifth hole, pushing his score to 13 under at the PGA Championship and snapping a five-way tie for the lead.

Rory McIlroy, seeking his second straight major title, began the rain-delayed final round with a one-stroke lead. But Boy Wonder got off to a sluggish start, making a bogey at the third while others were charging up the leaderboard.

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, even after he took a bogey at the second by driving into a creek. He bounced back with three straight birdies.

Tiger Woods missed the cut, but there were big-name contenders all around.

Ernie Els posted five birdies on the front side and was just two shots off the lead, giving him a shot at the third leg of a career Grand Slam. Henrik Stenson birdied three of the first six holes and was one shot back. Phil Mickelson also was a shot of the lead after making a 30-foot putt at the first, then another birdie at the third.

McIlroy and Austria's Bernd Wiesberger, playing in the final group, were one shot behind, as well.

Wiesberger, a member of the European Tour who has never contended in a major championship, was the biggest surprise after three straight rounds in the 60s, including a 65 on Saturday that pushed him up the leaderboard.

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 — raised the possibility that the final major of the year stretching into Monday.

McIlroy, who won the British Open for his third major title and captured the World Golf Championship at Firestone last week, teed off with Wiesberger at 4:19 p.m. EDT. The PGA of America hoped that would provide just enough time to finish the round before darkness.

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

That would surely have to be held Monday morning.

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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