PGA Championship 2015: Separating Contenders from Pretenders for Final Round

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2015

PGA Championship 2015: Separating Contenders from Pretenders for Final Round

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    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    Players lit up a rain-softened Whistling Straits on Saturday, and the jubilant gentleman you see above is at the top of the heap entering the final round. 

    Jason Day, pictured celebrating a clutch birdie on the 17th hole, carded a six-under 66 to take a two-stroke lead into the final round. 

    Behind the Australian: a tightly bunched group of contenders and pretenders, including Jordan Spieth and Justin Rose. 

    The contenders are within reasonable striking distance with impressive pedigrees. The pretenders are either not close enough, not consistently good enough or both. 

    Who has a chance to topple Day? Who doesn't? 

    Click through to see.

Jason Day

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    Jae Hong/Associated Press

    Score to par entering final round: -15

    Key stats: Greens in regulation: 77.78% (T2); Strokes gained tee-to-green: 14.75 (1); Birdies: 18 (T2) 

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 68-67-66

    Pedigree: Impressive. Day has four wins in his career, including two this season. He has nine top-10 finishes in 20 major starts and tied for 15th at the PGA Championship last year. Day has only broken par once in the final round of a PGA Championship, however. 

    Verdict: Contender. Jason Day has come closer than any non-major-winner on this list to taking a title. He's certainly ready and able to take home a trophy. And as the leader by three, he is obviously in the best position to raise the Wanamaker.

Branden Grace

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Score to par entering final round: -12

    Key stats: Birdies: 17 (T4): Strokes gained tee-to-green: 8.85 (7)

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 71-69-64

    Pedigree: Grace has three top-10 finishes this season and was undone by a sloppy tee shot at the U.S. Open, where he tied for fourth. An accomplished player internationally, the South African is not presently in the same league as the rest of the players on this list. 

    Verdict: Pretender. Grace caught lightning in a bottle with a brilliant third-round 64 that included a dramatic hole out from the sand at the final hole. Brilliant as it was, don't expect it to happen again Sunday.

Jordan Spieth

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Score to par entering final round: -13

    Key statsBogeys: 2 (T1); Strokes gained tee-to-green: 13.15 (2) 

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 71-67-65

    Pedigree: The finest. Spieth, twice a major champion, has proved himself in just two seasons on tour. The young man has a knack for doing what needs to be done in pressure situations, as he showed Saturday. Spieth has four wins this season and tied for 10th at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in his most recent start. 

    Verdict: Contender. If you needed more evidence, consider his third-round back-nine birdie blitz. Spieth, who leads the tour in the stat, rolled in six tweeters in eight holes to charge up the leaderboard with a third-round 65.

Tony Finau

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Score to par entering final round: -10

    Key statsBirdies: 15 (T8); Driving distance: 305.7 (T9) 

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 71-66-69

    Pedigree: Finau is untested not only in major championships but in contending down the stretch on the PGA Tour. He has one win on the Web.com Tour. 

    Verdict: Pretender. Five shots behind Day entering the final round and lacking experience, Finau doesn't have a chance.

Justin Rose

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Score to par entering final round: -12

    Key stats: Birdies: 20 (1); Greens in regulation: 79.63% (1) 

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 69-67-68

    Pedigree: Major winner. Rose is a major champion and a multiple winner on the PGA Tour. He won the Zurich Classic earlier this year and has top-five finishes in three of his last four starts. Big-time talent playing big-time golf right now. 

    Verdict: Contender. There's nothing in Rose's pedigree, position, recent play and work through three rounds that would lead you to believe he's anything other than a legitimate contender.

Matt Jones

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Score to par entering final round: -10

    Key stats: Driving distance: 309.9 (T2); Strokes gained tee-to-green: 8.24 (10) 

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 68-65-73

    Pedigree: Tour winner, journeyman. Jones won the Shell Houston Open last year but hasn't done a great deal else. 

    Verdict: Pretender. Matt Jones fell back to earth in the third round, firing a one-over 73 to slide five strokes out of the lead he held entering the day. Nobody at 10-under is winning this tournament, certainly not Jones, who proved unready for the big stage.

Martin Kaymer

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Score to par entering final round: -11

    Key stats: Birdies: 17 (T4); Strokes gained putting: 6.91 (5)

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 70-70-65

    Pedigree: He's the guy who won the last PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and he also won the 2014 U.S. Open. He's won 22 times between the PGA Tour and international play. 

    Verdict: Contender. Kaymer will start his final round four strokes behind Jason Day. Comfortable, capable and proven at Whistling Straits, if he cards another 65 to finish at 18 under and gets a little help, the tournament could be his.

Dustin Johnson

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    Andrew Redington/Getty Images

    Score to par entering final round: -9

    Key statsDriving distance: 309.9 (T2) 

    Rounds 1-3 scores: 66-73-68

    Pedigree: A bridesmaid last time the PGA was contested at Whistling Straits, Dustin Johnson has won nine times on the PGA Tour. He has seven top-10 finishes in addition to a victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship this season.

    Verdict: Pretender. At six strokes behind Day, the gap is simply too large for DJ to make up, even if he shoots 64 or 65.


    Stats via PGATour.com.