Sunday’s PGA Championship final round is shaping up to be one of the best major finishes of the 2013 season.
Big-name players like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson may not currently be sitting atop the leaderboard, but there’s a tight pack of top golfers all vying for their shot at the 95th Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday.
Jim Furyk currently holds a one-stroke advantage over Jason Dufner, but also has four other contenders within four strokes of his narrow lead. That’s a good thing, historically, for everyone not named Dufner and Furyk in New York on Sunday, according to ESPN’s Justin Ray on Twitter:
Then there are Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood sitting six strokes back, but neither is ever truly out of contention. A final-round surge by either of the two Day 4 partners could put pressure on the six ahead of them to maintain pace as the afternoon progresses.
We won’t see how it all unfolds until later, but here’s a prediction for what to expect from the top of the leaderboard on Sunday.
Final Pairings and Projections
Jim Furyk (-9) Jason Dufner (-8)
Furyk has 10 years of motivation to finally capture another major. At 43 years old, his time may be running out.
After Phil Mickelson’s British Open victory, Furyk would defy the odds by staying the course with a win at Oak Hill, according to ESPN Stats and Information:
Last year, Furyk melted down at the U.S. Open, double-bogeying the 18th hole to surrender the title to Webb Simpson. He followed that up later in the year with another monumental collapse at Bridgestone. He held four 36-hole PGA Tour leads last year and didn't come away with a single victory.
As the pressure begins to mount from the other top contenders throughout the afternoon, expect Furyk to falter again on the back nine to open things up for the field.
Dufner could be one of the guys to take advantage if Furyk falters. Sitting just one stroke back, the 36-year-old Cleveland native is two days removed from his historic round on Friday.
Saturday didn’t go as planned after his record-setting 63. However, despite all of his misfortune, Dufner held it together emotionally to stay in contention. He valiantly weathered the storm to keep himself in a strong position heading into the final round.
Expect Dufner to battle back at Oak Hill, the course that struck back just one day ago, and to be playing for the Wanamaker Trophy during the final stretch.
Henrik Stenson (-7) and Jonas Blixt (-6)
There are two Swedish contenders heading into the final round of the PGA Championship. Both Henrik Stenson and Jonas Blixt will be paired together for the final round, and both are vying to do something that has never happened in major history.
According to ESPN’s John Buccigross, Blixt and Stenson are attempting to earn a significant win for themselves and for their country:
While Blixt, 29, is a relative newcomer making his PGA Championship debut this year, 37-year-old Stenson is not unfamiliar with the spectacle that is a major tournament.
He’s also playing his best golf right now coming off of two runner-up performances at Bridgestone and the British Open. If either of these two is going to challenge for the title, expect it to be Stenson in the final holes.
To his credit, Stenson has victories at the Players Championship—widely thought of to be the fifth unofficial major—and the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Don’t count out Blixt, though. His 66 on Saturday proves the spotlight hasn’t yet gotten the better of him. Odds are, though, that the younger Swede will drop out of the running in the final day.
Steve Stricker (-5) and Adam Scott (-5)
It would be a lie to say people aren’t pulling for 46-year-old Steve Stricker to win his first major. The fan-favorite veteran is half-retired and desperately searching for that ever-elusive title.
If history has its say, though, odds are that Steve Stricker will not continue his excellent play on the final day at Oak Hill. According to ESPN’s Justin Ray, Stricker has a long history of falling out of contention at majors:
Stricker excels on the green, but when the pressure is at its paramount, those putts will prove to be his undoing on the fourth and final day in New York. His quest will likely have to continue next season if he has another year left in the tank.
As for Adam Scott, the former tournament leader fell off on Saturday after sitting atop the leaderboard with Furyk. Shooting a 72 isn’t even approaching a collapse, but the Australian has progressively gotten worse each day at Oak Hill.
Then there’s Scott’s 2012 British Open disaster—perhaps one of the worst in history—to keep in mind. Scott rebounded this season to win the Masters, but his four-bogey collapse at Lytham St. Annes should not be forgotten.
Perhaps getting the monkey off of his back by winning his first major will help alleviate some of the pressure on Sunday, but that’s wishful thinking.
Luckily for him, Scott is not in a position of pressure sitting four strokes behind Furyk on Sunday. Expect him to rebound after a setback on Saturday due to his poise and patient approach on the course and capture his second major win of the season.