The golf gods have smiled down upon the Valhalla Golf Club. The 2014 PGA Championship looks set for the kind of dramatic finish that keeps fans attached to their television sets for every single moment of the final day.
Heading into Round 4, Rory McIlroy is one stroke ahead of Bernd Wiesberger at 13 under. Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson also remain within shouting distance and will likely have an impact on the final outcome.
This tournament contrasts positively with The Open Championship, which McIlroy had all but sealed after the third round. It was great watching Rory win and all, but fans need a little tension in order to be glued to the action.
That shouldn't be a problem Sunday.
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Will Rory McIlroy Make it a Baker's Dozen?
I'll admit that I was one of the McIlroy doubters. I didn't think he could become the 13th golfer since World War I to win back-to-back major tournaments. Could he really keep his brilliant play up for four more rounds?
The answer through three rounds is an emphatic yes.
McIlroy hasn't been as dominant at Valhalla as he was at The Open Championship, but on multiple occasions Saturday, he was staring at a likely bogey, only to unleash a great save to set up for a manageable par putt. That's the mark of a great golfer.
Who's Rory McIlroy's toughest challenger on the final day?
Unlike at Hoylake, Rory doesn't have a sizable lead. If he trips up early in Round 4, guys like Wiesberger, Mickelson, Fowler, Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen will be there to pounce.
"Tomorrow standing on the first tee is going to feel different than how it felt a month ago at Hoylake because you don't have that...it is going to be a shootout," McIlroy said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "You know the conditions are soft. Guys are going to make birdies. And you know that you're going to have to make birdies as well."
The final round has been the proving ground for the game's legends. In order for McIlroy to be considered among the biggest names in golf, then he'll need to close major tournaments like the PGA Championship. Otherwise, it's right back to being the next Greg Norman.
I'm not going to doubt him again after he proved me completely wrong. McIlroy is the best golfer in the world at the moment and playing with a resolute focus on winning a fourth major title. It's his to lose, and nothing indicates that he will.
Can Rickie Fowler Get Over the Hump?
Through the year's first three major tournaments, Fowler has finished in the top five each time, including ties for second at the U.S. Open and Open Championship. If he makes it four, he'll be entering rarefied air without winning, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Rickie Fowler could join this group: Top 5 finish in each Major in a single season: Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus (H/T @EliasSports)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 10, 2014
McIlroy deserves all the praise he's receiving for his performance in 2014, but it's in part overshadowed Fowler's incredible consistency this year. The fact that he could be in the same company as Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus shows you how tough it is to simply finish in the top five in all four majors in a single season.
ESPN's Trey Wingo is one of likely many pulling for the 25-year-old to get over that proverbial hump and win the PGA Championship:
Not gonna lie... Pulling for Rickie Fowler. Guy has been most consistent player in the majors all year and has nothing to show for it.— trey wingo (@wingoz) August 10, 2014
At the very least, Fowler and McIlroy look to be engaged in the kind of rivalry that will lead to plenty of drama in the future. Every great star needs a great foil.
Bernd Wiesberger Attempts to Play Catch-up
Don't worry. That will be the only burger-related pun in the article.
Golf can't survive on underdogs alone, but it's always fun to see that one journeyman placed smack dab in one of the top pairings heading into the final day. Before the PGA Championship, Wiesberger made the cut once in five major tournament tries, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Bernd Wiesberger is tied with Rory McIlroy for the lead at the #PGAChampionship. In 5 previous Majors, Wiesberger made the cut just once.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 9, 2014
Gary Van Sickle of Sports Illustrated wrote that Wiesberger shouldn't be dismissed offhandedly in the final round:
You’re sure he’s going to gag it up Sunday and wilt under the major championship spotlight? Well, he could’ve done that today if he was going to do that. Instead, he played a bogey-free round and birdied the final three holes to give McIlroy a scare. They weren’t ordinary birdies, either. They were all of the kick-in length variety. He stiffed shots at 16 and 17, then nearly pitched in for eagle from just in front of the 18th green. It was impressive stuff, even if some pressroom golf writers were still busy cracking jokes about his name.
The 28-year-old has proven himself to be a viable threat at Valhalla, but being a viable threat and actually winning it are two slightly different things.
Wiesberger has never felt the pressure that he'll deal with Sunday. Approximating the weight a golfer carries as he pursues a major championship on the final day is impossible. When he takes that first tee, it will all really sink in.
He should remain in the thick of things throughout Sunday, but a win simply doesn't look in the cards.