Key Questions Entering Moving Day at 2014 PGA Championship

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistAugust 9, 2014

Key Questions Entering Moving Day at 2014 PGA Championship

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    There are few things more exciting than a jam-packed leaderboard heading into a weekend at a major. Luckily, after two days of play at the PGA Championship, that's exactly what we have.

    Despite Tiger Woods missing the cut, there is plenty of star power to go around Valhalla. Rory McIlroy is the leader, and there are a plethora of accomplished players within striking distance. The popular Aussie Jason Day is just one stroke behind, and Rickie Fowler, Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson are all within three.

    With a mix of youth and experience, familiar names and unknowns, established superstars and on-the-verge hopefuls, there is still a chance for all kinds to walk off with the Wanamaker this year.

    Saturday is the day for this weekend's contenders to separate themselves from the pretenders. Here are the most significant questions to keep an eye on heading into moving day.

Will Rory McIlroy Leave the Field in His Wake?

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    When Rory McIlroy is leading a major after two days, it's usually not good news for the rest of the field. The 25-year-old has an affable demeanor, but don't be fooled; he's the kind that likes to twist the knife when he's in the lead.

    At nine-under par, McIlroy's lead is only one stroke after two days, but 14 players are within four shots. Still, with his firepower, the world No. 1 is certainly capable of leaving the rest of the field in the dust.

    As reported by Bill Fields of The New York Times, McIlroy knows how important fast starts are:

    En route to winning his three major titles, McIlroy has always had low scores in the opening round: He shot an opening 65 at the 2011 United States Open, a 67 at the 2012 P.G.A. Championship and a 66 at the British Open in July, when he led wire-to-wire.

    "It’s always important to get off to good starts in major championships," McIlroy said. "You look at the three wins that I’ve had, and I’ve started really well in each of them."

    All of the contenders nipping at McIlroy's heels better hope that the three-time major champion takes a step backward on moving day. 

Which Relative Unknown Has the Best Shot at Making a Run?

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    Located at the end of the major season when fatigue is certainly a factor, the PGA Championship has a history of producing surprise winners. Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel, Mark Brooks and Y.E. Yang, among others, have left oddsmakers scratching their heads after walking away with the Wanamaker Trophy.

    Looking at the leaderboard, there are plenty of unfamiliar names in position to do some damage this weekend.

    Ryan Palmer is sitting pretty at seven-under par, just two shots behind the leader. The 37-year-old American only has one top-10 finish at a major in his career, at the 2011 Masters. Including this week, he has only made the cut of three of the last 12 majors.

    Twenty-eight-year-old Bernd Wiesberger from Austria is also in good position at six-under par, as are other lesser knowns in the top 10, such as Mikko Ilolen from Finland, Graham DeLaet from Canada and Joost Luiten from the Netherlands. Frenchman Victor Dubuisson, who has had a good season but is hardly a household name, is right there at five-under par as well.

    There hasn't been a first-time major winner on the PGA Tour this year, but that could all change in the next two days if these Cinderellas can keep the clock from striking midnight.

Can Rickie Fowler Actually Take the Lead?

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    It's no secret that Rickie Fowler has played well at the majors this year. In fact, he's been the most consistent PGA player on the biggest stages of golf, finishing tied for fifth at the Masters and tied for second at the U.S. Open and the Open Championship.

    But even though he was high up on the leaderboard on those three Sundays, it never really felt like he had a chance at winning the title, primarily because Bubba Watson, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy all separated themselves so much from their respective fields.

    In order to take the next step in his career, he needs to grab the lead on a weekend at a major and be the guy that others are chasing.

    Right now, Fowler is very much in the mix once again. The 25-year-old shot a 66 on Friday—highlighted by his near-ace on 11—and is only two strokes behind McIlroy. But he's going to need to keep his foot on the gas pedal if he wants to prevent himself from being a bridesmaid once more. 

Is Jason Day Healthy Enough to Win His First Major?

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    After a 65 on Friday to move him to eight-under for the week, Jason Day is back where we all thought he belonged: playing in the final group with Rory McIlroy at a major. But after a rough season, it remains to be seen if he can stay there.

    Day started the year strong, tying for second at the Farmers Insurance Open and winning the World Golf Championships-Accenture Match Play Championship. He even looked like he could contend for the top ranking for a while.

    Instead, a persistent thumb injury and illnesses have plagued Day, causing him to fade into the background as many of his peers passed him by. His lone highlight of the summer was a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open. After he withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with vertigo, he was an afterthought coming into Valhalla.

    Even though Day is playing well, he said in his post-round interview on TNT that his thumb was still not completely healed. He's going to need all the health he can get if he wants to win his maiden major on Sunday.

What Will Phil MIckelson Do?

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    This is a question going into every round of golf he plays. Phil Mickelson can be awful and he can be spectacular, and sometimes (often?) he can be both on the same hole.

    The last two days at Valhalla, Mickelson has been much more the latter than the former. The five-time major champion shot an eagle on his final hole on Friday to finish at six-under par for the tornament, only three strokes behind the leader.

    Lefty had been a bit under the radar coming into this event, especially compared to the other majors this year. After all, he's always a topic of conversation at the Masters, he was looking for his "Career Slam" at the place of his first near-miss at the U.S. Open at Pinehurst and he was the defending champ at the British Open.

    With the spotlight focused elsewhere, Mickelson has played great golf this week at Valhalla, and after a rough season, he seems to be back in control of his game. It just remains to be seen which Phil will show up on moving day.

Will Any of the Former No. 1s Produce Some Magic?

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    There are 17 No. 1s in PGA Tour history, and eight of them teed off at the PGA Championship this week. One of them, current No. 1 Rory McIlroy, is leading the pack after two days. But he's not the only one to watch out for.

    Five of the former No. 1s could make some noise this weekend—only Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer missed the cut.

    Lee Westwood is in the best position, tied for ninth at five-under par. Vijay Singh is also (somewhat surprisingly) in the picture after his 68 on Friday put him at three-under for the championship. Adam Scott and Ernie Els are at two-under par, while Luke Donald is lagging behind at even par.

    With such a tight leaderboard, all of these guys could find themselves in contention on Sunday if the cards fall the right way. But first, they need to bring the games that took them to the top when playing Valhalla on Saturday.

Can Jim Furyk Stay in Contention?

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    Jim Furyk looks so calm out there on the golf course that it's easy to forget that the veteran is fighting for the win, but according to his recent results, he certainly is.

    The 2003 U.S. Open Champion has finished in the top 15 in the last four majors. Most notably he was the runner-up at last year's PGA Championship, finishing two strokes behind Jason Dufner.

    He's in the No. 2 spot again heading into the weekend at Valhalla, after back-to-back birdies on the final two holes put him at eight-under par, tied with Jason Day one stroke behind McIlroy.

    Jeff Babineau of GolfWeek wrote about how Furyk's good season could turn into a great one:

    The 44-year-old Furyk has been on a nice run in 2014, establishing himself once again as a consistent contender. He has finished outside the top 20 in only one start since the Tour left Florida in March – a tie for 51st at Colonial—and owns three runner-up finishes this season. He has earned $4.2 million and already has locked up a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team that will travel to Scotland this fall.

    The only thing Furyk hasn’t done? Win. His last victory was the 2010 Tour Championship, and he’d love to do something about that.

    Furyk has 21 top-10 finishes at majors in his career but is perhaps more famous for his close misses than for his impressive consistency. A win here would be a big boost to his legacy, but first he'll need a strong round on Saturday to keep him in the picture.