TULSA, Okla. (Reuters) - Chile's Mito Pereira said it was the best thing he'd ever done when he secured a PGA Tour card last year. He may soon top that as he heads into the weekend one shot off the PGA Championship lead and with a chance to become his country's first player to win a major.
Pereira, one of a record six Latin American players in the field this week at Southern Hills Country Club, tied his career-low round on the PGA Tour with a six-under-par 64 that brought him to eight under on the week, one shot back of Will Zalatoris.
After storming up the leaderboard the 27-year-old Pereira was asked what he would have said if, back when he took a two-year break from golf when he was a teenager, someone told him he would be contending to win a major
"That you're crazy," said Pereira. "No, I mean, I took the two years off but when I came back I just -- I knew I could do it, I knew I could get to here, and I just kept the confidence, and obviously there were some up and downs but really happy to be here."
Last June, Pereira secured his third Korn Ferry Tour title of the 2020-21 season, which made him only the 12th player in the development circuit's 32-year history to earn the three-victory promotion to the PGA Tour.
He now wants to make the most of his opportunity.
Competing in only his second major and first since missing the cut at the 2019 U.S. Open, Pereira was a picture of calm in windy conditions that got the better of many more experienced golfers.
Starting on the back nine, he birdied his first two holes before carding his only bogey of the day at the par-four 12th where he failed to get up and down from 36 yards away.
But Pereira, who has three career PGA Tour top 10s, marched on and drained a 21-foot birdie putt at his seventh hole before making the turn and kicking things up a few notches.
He carded four more birdies over a six-hole stretch on his back nine, including one at the par-four seventh where he drained a six-foot putt to grab a share of the lead but ended up one back after Zalatoris birdied his penultimate hole.
"The conditions are going to change a little bit. The wind is going to change. Going to be a little bit colder. I think I'll just try to do the same I've been doing," Pereira said of the weekend.
"Been hitting the ball really well, so I think that's a real strength coming up to the weekend. Yeah, not to change
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; editing by Richard Pullin)