Ranking the 10 Most Surprising Winners in PGA Championship History

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistAugust 7, 2013

Ranking the 10 Most Surprising Winners in PGA Championship History

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    The anticipation prior to one of golf's majors is always thick with the hope that the greatest stars will hook up in a duel to create memories that last for years.

    However, golf is a strange game. As a major plays out, the focus often shifts from the sport's stars to those who are playing the best in that tournament. Sometimes these players are not the biggest names. Instead, they can be somewhat obscure pros who just get hot at the right time.

    With that in mind, here's our ranking of the 10 most unlikely PGA champions in the event's history.

    Historical details provided by PGA.com

10. Y.E. Yang (2009)

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    Tiger Woods had a two-stroke lead going into the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine in Chaska, Minn.

    That did not bode well for final-round playing partner Y.E. Yang, who trailed Woods by two strokes. Woods had never lost a major when holding the outright lead going into the final round. However, the South Korean was on his game and not the least bit intimidated by Woods.

    Yang caught Woods and passed him, winning the tournament by three strokes. It is the only major victory of Yang's career.

9. Hal Sutton (1983)

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    Hal Sutton was a young golf star on the rise in 1983. He would have a sensational season and would become known as "The Bear Apparent," a tribute to his idol Jack Nicklaus.

    The crowning moment of that season was his victory in the PGA Championship. As he stood on the 12th tee box, Sutton found himself five strokes ahead of Nicklaus. However, he bogeyed the next three holes, and the Golden Bear was breathing down his neck.

    With the tournament in jeopardy, Sutton steeled himself on the 15th and hit a sharp iron within 15 feet of the pin. That allowed him to calm down and hold off Nicklaus for the championship.

    The victory was the only major triumph of his career.

8. Jeff Sluman (1988)

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    Jeff Sluman was an unimposing golfer when he teed off at the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree Golf Club in Edmond, Okla.

    Few took notice of the 5'7", 140-pounder. However, he played sensationally through the first three rounds, and he was just three strokes behind Paul Azinger at the start of the final round and sitting in third place. Sluman caught fire in the final round.

    He fired a 65 Sunday, and he won the tournament. It was his first tour victory and the only major triumph of his career.

7. Dave Marr (1965)

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    Dave Marr was known as one of the most thoughtful and intelligent players on the tour in the mid-1960s. He would go on to have a career as golf commentator on network broadcasts.

    However, he often struggled when competing against the best golfers in the biggest events. He won one major, and it was the 1965 PGA Championship at the Laurel Valley Golf Club in Pennsylvania.

    He had the lead on the 18th hole of the final round, but victory was not assured until he struck his 9-iron with precision, and the ball came to rest within three feet of the hole. He held off Nicklaus, who did not play well in that final round, and Marr had the only major of his career.

6. John Mahaffey (1978)

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    John Mahaffey was an unlikely PGA champion in 1978. With 14 holes to play at Oakmont Country Club in Oakmont, Pa., he found himself down by seven strokes to Tom Watson.

    However, Mahaffey played scintillating golf, while Watson endured one of the most inconsistent final rounds of his career. By the end of 72 holes, Mahaffey, Watson and Jerry Pate were tied for the lead and went to a playoff.

    After all three players settled for par on the first sudden-death hole, Mahaffey ended the drama by rolling in a 12-foot birdie putt for the win.

    Mahaffey's victory kept Watson from earning all four Grand Slam titles.

5. Jay Hebert (1960)

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    Jay Hebert had never won a major, but when the opportunity presented itself in 1960 at the Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio, he did not let it slip away.

    Hebert got himself into trouble when he double-bogeyed the 10th hole, but he birdied two of the final four holes to win the PGA by one stroke.

    With the victory, Hebert joined his brother Lionel Hebert (1957) as the only siblings to win the PGA Championship.

4. Rich Beem (2002)

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    Rich Beem was one of the most unlikely winners in major golf history. Just seven years before staring down Tiger Woods and winning the 2002 PGA Championship, Beem was selling stereo equipment and earning $7 per hour.

    However, it all came together for him in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine. He was never better than he was in the final round when he shot a four-under 68 to take a one-shot victory over Woods.

    "I'm still surprised at myself," Beem said after winning the title. "I'm elated beyond belief. I was a lot more in control of my emotions than I ever have been under that kind of pressure."

3. Al Geiberger (1966)

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    It was an unlikely battle with an unlikely result.

    In the 1966 PGA Championship at the Firestone Country Club, a skinny California golfer named Al Geiberger found himself tied with legend Sam Snead at the end of the first round. Geiberger remained in contention after two rounds, and when he fired a 68 in the third round, he found himself with a four-stroke lead going into the final round.

    Geiberger was anything but confident as he bogeyed three of the first four holes Sunday. As it looked like his chance at glory was slipping away, Geiberger pulled a peanut butter sandwich out of his golf bag, so he could steady his nerves and gain some energy. He birdied the fifth hole, and the "Peanut Butter Kid" went on to win the only major of his career.

2. Shaun Micheel (2003)

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    The 2003 season was one of the most unusual in PGA history.

    All the majors went to surprise winners, and none was a bigger surprise than Shaun Micheel, who took the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.

    Mike Weir won the Masters that year, Jim Furyk took the U.S. Open and Ben Curtis earned the British Open.

    Micheel had never won in 163 previous starts on the tour, and he has not recorded another tour victory since.

    However, Micheel had it together at Oak Hill, and had a one-stroke lead as he came to the 18th hole.

    He clinched the victory when he struck a perfect 7-iron from the short rough about 175 yards from the flag stick. The ball came to rest just inches from the hole, and his tap-in birdie gave him a two-stroke victory and a $1.08 million payday.

1. John Daly (1991)

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    John Daly was the ninth alternate for the 1991 PGA Championship. However, on the day before the tournament started, Daly got a call telling him he had moved to the first alternate position.

    He drove from Memphis to Indianapolis in an effort to have a chance, should he get selected to play. When he arrived in Indiana, he got the word that he was welcome to compete in the PGA Championship at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind.

    Daly got to the course on time and played the best golf of his career. The prodigious Daly averaged 303 yards off the tee and putted sensationally. He had the lead after three rounds and eased to the win with a final round of 71.

    Daly said the victory was the result of fearless play. "All four days, I didn't think," Daly said. "I just hit it."

    While the majority of Daly's career has been marked by missed opportunities, his performance in the 1991 PGA is the stuff of golf legends.


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