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PGA Championship: Obscure Harold Varner III to play in final pairing

Harold Varner III tees off on the 2nd

Harold Varner III tees off on the 2nd hole during the third round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Saturday. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Whatever happens on Sunday at the PGA Championship, Harold Varner III is ready for it.

"It's awesome. It's a great opportunity. It's going to be a great day no matter what happens,” said Varner after shooting a 3-under-par 67 on Saturday in the third round of the PGA Championship to tie for second place heading into Sunday's final round. “This is what you practice for and obviously I'm super excited. Just need to go home and eat some McDonald’s and do it again. I'm super excited for the opportunity.”

The 28-year-old from Gastonia, North Carolina, has never been in this place before. His sole victory as a professional was at the 2016 Australian PGA Championship, which in no way resembles the PGA at Bethpage Black, the second major of the year.

But Varner certainly made it look more like a stroll in the park with his bogey-free round on Saturday, and his casual attitude afterward. After signing his card he was shepherded to two television interviews and a radio gig before facing the rest of the media. He conducted himself with a natural confidence and an ever-present smile.

Varner is 7 under par for his last 23 holes on the Black Course and doesn’t seem at all surprised about it. He played in the Barclays on the Black in 2016, his rookie season on the PGA Tour.

What could have been different from his first 31 holes this week?

“Absolutely nothing,” he said. “You just saw some go in. I hit a lot of putts before 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 because if you just miss a beat somewhere, you're going to make double real quick.”

Varner will play with Brooks Koepka in the final pairing on Sunday. That Koepka is seven shots ahead of him seems of little consequence. “The first thing that comes to mind is I think it's great for golf,” Varner said. “If you don't go to sleep and think, man, this makes me want to work harder, if I can be that good, then I don't know why you're playing. You can't sit there and just weep and be like, he's so much better.”

Varner and Tiger Woods are the only African Americans playing the PGA Tour. “The reason I play golf is because of my dad,” Varner said. “The reason I watch golf is because of Tiger.”

He got his share of fan support on Saturday.

“It's fine. I like it,” Varner said. “Some of the stuff they say cracks me up. They are like, ‘Tiger, Tiger!’ So that one always gets me.”

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