Separating Contenders from Pretenders to Win Rain-Delayed 2016 PGA Championship

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistJuly 31, 2016

Separating Contenders from Pretenders to Win Rain-Delayed 2016 PGA Championship

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    A Saturday morning that dawned at Baltusrol looking like it’d feature the narrative of Jimmy Walker pursuing his first major victory with Henrik Stenson and Jason Day at his heels, turned instead into something resembling White Squall.

    Play was suspended for the day at just after 2 p.m. ET, and it never got started again. Six twosomes never got on the course. Those groups, of course, featured the 12 lowest-scoring golfers entering the third round. 

    Only one golfer, Kevin Kisner, started from outside the top 10 and made his way into elite company thanks to his Saturday efforts. Padraig Harrington also fired a five-under 65 Saturday to move into a tie for 10th. 

    It's difficult to make any firm predictions about the forecast, which looks an awful lot like stop-start delay inducing periods of rain. And the pessimists of the golf Twitterverse are already suggesting a Monday finish could be in store. 

    There shouldn't be any "luck of the draw" to the degree that there was at The Open, but the final groups will tee off after the golfers at four and five under. So even playing in threesomes (as they surely will), the leaders will be last on the course. 

    But rather than make an amateur attempt at meteorology, we'll assume the golfers on this list will be teeing it up in similar it on Sunday or Monday. 

Patrick Reed: 5 Under

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Patrick Reed will begin his third round two strokes behind Day and four strokes behind Walker. 

    He opened the PGA Championship with an even-par 70 before getting things going Friday with a five-under 65 that saw him drive the ball better and hit an impressive 16 of 18 greens in regulation. 

    Unfortunately, after a low round, players generally regress toward their seasonal scoring average. In Reed's case, that average is 70.53

    Assuming he does a couple of strokes better than that, he'll be four or five strokes off the lead entering the final round: too far out of reach to assign a high probability to his winning. 

    Verdict: Pretender

Martin Kaymer: 5 Under

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Tested, winner of the 2010 PGA Championship, Martin Kaymer has a proven ability to hold his nerve in majors. 

    He's been flying under the radar this season after relinquishing his PGA Tour card and enters the tournament on a run of good form. But at 41st in strokes gained from tee to green through two rounds and 33rd in greens in regulation, he's not going to give himself enough opportunities to catch the leaders. And an average putter, he's not likely to convert enough of his scoring opportunities to shoot the 65 or 66 required to put himself in position.

    His putting came back to work after an impressive opening-round 66, which saw him pick up 2.56 strokes on the field with the putter. 

    It's improbable he'll outperform his average putting this season to pour in enough birdies to enter the final round in position to win. 

    Verdict: Pretender

Kevin Kisner: 5 Under

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Kisner just shot a five-under 65 and is situated just four strokes off Walker's lead. The only problem: Kisner has already completed his third round. 

    Unless players are forced onto the course in a torrential downpour, it isn't likely that the golfers ahead of Kisner on the leaderboard will shoot over-par rounds. 

    No golfer ahead of him on the leaderboard has shot worse than 68 this week. Assuming that trend continues, Kisner will be at least five shots back when he starts his final round: He's simply too far back to expect him to win, especially in stop-start conditions where maintaining positive momentum will be difficult. 

    Verdict: Pretender

Henrik Stenson: 6 Under

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Overflowing with confidence following his breakthrough victory at The Open, Stenson was a solid bet entering the week, as long as he avoided any major championship hangover. But with no double bogeys and only four bogeys through two rounds, Stenson has been his usually steady self at Baltusrol. 

    Stenson is leading the field in strokes gained from tee to green and strokes gained approaching the green in the course of his pair of 67s to kick off the PGA Championship. 

    Just three strokes off the lead and flushing the ball the way he is presently, Stenson is absolutely in the mix for a second consecutive major title.  

    Verdict: Contender

Jason Day: 7 Under

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    With questions about his health and preparation behind him, Day is starting to press the pedal to the floor at Baltusrol. He opened with a respectable two-under 70 before making eight birdies in his second round 65. Were it not for a double-bogey hiccup at the seventh hole, he'd already be tied for the lead. 

    Day has been the best putter on tour this season. He struggled with the flatstick in his opening round at Baltusrol but got considerably more comfortable Friday. If we assume players are presented with slow, but decent, putting surfaces and not swamp land, Day should be able to continue with his improved work on the greens, which is more like his putting across the whole of the last two season. 

    Hitting nearly 92 percent of greens in regulation through two rounds with a putter that looks to be heating up, Day is well-positioned to move to the head of the pack before the fourth round even begins. 

    Verdict: Contender

Emiliano Grillo: 7 Under

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Young. Untested. Emiliano Grillo has all the marks of a player who folds in a major championship as the pressure is ratcheted up. 

    Of course, no one would wish such an outcome on the young Argentine, but it is simply an established part of the sport. The 23-year-old will be punching above his weight class when the third round begins; the No. 37 golfer in the Official World Golf Ranking will be due to fall back to earth. 

    It's more probable that he'll hit the ball like the 86th-ranked golfer total strokes gained, which he is this season, than the third-ranked golfer in the category, which he has been through two rounds. 

    Could he continue to massively outperform? Of course. But it's more probable that he won't. 

    Verdict: Pretender

Robert Streb: 9 Under

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    Seth Wenig/Associated Press

    Robert Streb has made just one bogey through two days at Baltusrol. He's presently third in strokes gained from tee to green and eighth in strokes gained from putting.


    Unfortunately, he's also the No. 74 golfer in the Official World Golf Ranking, a measure of the quality of his play over the past two seasons and being 104th in total strokes gained for 2016. 

    With Day, the No. 1 golfer in the world, just two strokes back and Stenson behind him, it's unlikely he's able to outpace them over two rounds. Additionally, ask anyone to place a wager on either Walker, who also sits at nine under, or Streb, and you'd have to assume everyone would back Walker.  

    Verdict: Pretender 

Jimmy Walker: 9 Under

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    While co-leader through 36 holes, Walker hasn't won a major championship. He has won five times on the PGA Tour and has tallied top-10 finishes in three of the four major championships. He's also a 37-year-old veteran who's unlikely to lose his nerve. 

    21st on tour in strokes gained: total this season and 17th in strokes gained approaching the green, Walker has had a solid, but not spectacular, 2016 campaign. He's been consistent in his open rounds of 65 and 66. 

    More importantly, his putter has been red hot: He's picked up 5.017 strokes on the field with the flatstick. If Baltusrol's greens are as soft as they're expected to be after today's storms and assuming players see more time on the course with clear skies than rain, the final two rounds will be a dart-throwing exhibition in which the best putter wins. 

    That man could very well be Jimmy Walker. 

    Verdict: Contender


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