Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner are the surprising 54-hole mark co-leaders of the 93rd edition of the PGA Championship.
Right behind them is another rookie, Keegan Bradley, and 47-year-old journeyman Scott Verplank. At fifth is another veteran, 44-year-old Steve Stricker.
Stricker, one of the best players in the world without a major to his name, was the first-round leader.
Scoring conditions have been difficult with the combination of the sweltering heat and a punishing golf course. But the players atop the leaderboard apparently did not receive the memo warning them of how the conditions would be.
Right now Steele and Dufner are the leaders and the question is if one of them will win. Let’s get to know them a little bit before I make that assessment.
Steele is a 28-year-old tour rookie who is looking to win the PGA the first time he has played on it. Dufner is a 34-year-old tour veteran looking for his first tour win.
Steele is from California and played college golf at the University of California, Riverside. He turned pro in 2005 and has played in the Canadian and Nationwide Tours before debuting this year in the PGA Tour.
Steele already has one Tour victory. In April he won the Valero Texas Open by one stroke over Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman.
Dufner is a native of Ohio and a former Auburn University golf standout. He is winless on the PGA Tour. He is just coming off an extended break. The 34-year-old took the last three weeks off after his month’s worth of missed cuts—four straight.
Dufner’s most successful year to date came in 2009 with six top-10 finishes including runner-up in the Deutsche Bank Championship. He finished 33rd on the money list.
Dufner last year finished T5 in this tournament. He was among the leaders from the second round on, so he is no stranger to being on the leaderboard on the PGA Championship.
Now that we know a bit more about the co-leaders of the tournament, let’s assess their chances.
With such a tough course in front of them, especially the last four torturing holes, we should expect plenty of movement. With so few success-experienced players on top, and so many big name players lurking around it, logic dictates that they should fall on pressure Sunday.
If the past three days have taught us something, it is to expect the unexpected.
Before the tournament I had picked Luke Donald and Lee Westwood to finally break through and win their first major. Yesterday they had a chance to be closer to the leaders and blew it.
Now they need the leaders to come down and they—Donald and Westwood—have to have a great final round to win. If anyone could do it, they certainly can.
Among the other more experienced players that could make a charge and challenge them are 2001 PGA Champ David Toms—who won here—and Masters Champ Charl Schwartzel, who had terrific rounds yesterday.
I see these two as serious contenders today for the win.
Out of the closer contenders, Scott Verplank is one of two players to have played the first three rounds in the 60s—the other is Steele. His two long putts for birdie at 16th and 17th yesterday gave him great confidence and momentum for today.
The consistent Stricker is dangerous today. He has been playing the tough back-nine at five-under. If he can avoid trouble early today, he should be able to make a run for the top and win.
Keegan Bradley had one great round on Friday—a six-under. He is another player that needs to avoid trouble early if he is to win it. He has played the back-nine at a ridiculous six-under. His only blemish was bogey on 18th on the first-round.
Between Steele and Dufner, I think Dufner will play better today and has the best shot at winning. Both have overcome their share of troubles while being fairly consistent to stay on top so far.
Steele has played the back-nine at two-under while Dufner has played at five-under. Dufner also had the experience of playing among the leaders last year and has kept his cool through 54 holes.
I think Dufner will break through and win the Wanamaker today.