Nestled in a tie for fourth place at the 2014 PGA Championship, little-known Ryan Palmer threatens to burst into golf’s most elite group of major title-holders by winning the coveted Wanamaker Trophy at Valhalla Golf Club.
Palmer, who fought his way through early-morning rain to shoot a one-under 70 on Friday, also threatens to join an equally singular group of unknowns who won the PGA Championship only to return to obscurity.
Unaccustomed to being atop the leaderboard at a major, he was two birdies away from posting a 62 on the first day and thus recording the lowest score in major championship history. The whole thing must have been like an out-of-body experience.
"When you get to where people are taking pictures of you walking, then you know you're playing good," Palmer told Tim Sullivan of The Courier-Journal. "Because you know they are not watching my clothes or my walk."
The rain-softened course helped, of course. But you have to hand it to Palmer who recorded seven birdies on his way to a 65.
After Day 2, Palmer resides in the high-rent district surrounded by leader Rory McIlroy, Jim Furyk, Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Steve Stricker and Henrik Stenson. He is so unfamiliar with his surroundings that he will have to go around with a fruit basket to introduce himself to his new neighbors.
Can the journeyman who hasn’t won since 2010 dare to beat the world’s best and come away with a major title?
It was one thing for Palmer to shoot a six-under 65 on the first day for a share of the lead with Lee Westwood and Kevin Chappell. Guys like Palmer usually fade after a great day like that at a major venue.
It was quite another when the 37-year-old Texan followed that with a very pure 70 on the second day to hang in a tie with Fowler in fourth place. Trailing the high-flying McIlroy by two, Palmer has put himself in position to make a run at fame and fortune.
But as quickly as such glory comes, it can disappear.
Remember Mark Brooks and Shaun Micheel? That's the type of golf pro Palmer might become should he actually win this year’s PGA Championship.
Brooks, another Texan, won the 1996 PGA Championship by beating Kenny Perry in a playoff. He never won another tournament.
Micheel, who was ranked 169th at the time, hit one of the purest shots in the history of golf to secure a win at the 2003 PGA Championship. Lying one stroke ahead of Chad Campbell on the final hole, Micheel hit a 7-iron from 175 yards to within inches of the cup to seal his victory.
It was not just his only major title, but it was also his only PGA victory.
Palmer’s story may not be so dramatic. But it is always compelling when a relatively normal player flirts with greatness. Let’s face it: He could just as easily shoot a 75 tomorrow and disappear from our consciousness.
Although he has played erratically and sometimes very poorly, his season includes a second-place finish at the Humana Challenge and a second-place finish at the Honda Classic, where he lost to Russell Henley in a playoff. He also has a fifth-place finish at the Colonial.
Based on his last four outings, he is not someone you would have ever bet on to win the PGA Championship, let alone finish in the top 10. In three of those instances, he did not finish higher than 32nd and missed the cut at the U.S. Open.
His play in majors is even less notable. He has only played in 10 majors during his 14-year career, and his best finish was 10th at the 2011 Masters.
Palmer currently ranks 63rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and 38th in the FedEx Cup. He is an afterthought not used to being at the top of the leaderboard.
Do you get him mixed up with that other Ryan, Ryan Moore? You shouldn’t. Moore is not only younger, at 31 years old, but he also has a better PGA pedigree.
He finished tied for 12th at this year’s U.S. Open, is ranked 37th in the world and finished 12th or better in his last four events.
Palmer is also not related to that other Palmer, first name Arnold. You may remember that The King, followed by his Army, won seven majors.
But Arnie’s crowded mantle is without a Wanamaker Trophy. It is the only major he never won.
How ironic would it be for Palmer to be the first one with his surname to win the PGA Championship? As ESPN.com's Ian O'Connor wrote Friday, "If Ryan Palmer does claim his first major title, he'll put a surname on top of a final PGA Championship leaderboard that belonged there a long time ago."
Unlike others who have risen to such heights, he might like living in this neighborhood so much that he stays.
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