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Sunday, August 14, 2011

Up for Grabs

This major leaderboard isn't what anyone expected... at least, not for the final day. Thursdays and Fridays are a different matter, aren't they? But perhaps these players aren't such a surprise after all.

Granted, two of the leaders are rookies and this is their first major. (That in itself is unusual, given how many amateurs get invites to majors these days.) But both Brendan Steele (-7) and Keegan Bradley (-6) have won on Tour this year -- Steele at the Valero Texas Open, Bradley at the Byron Nelson. If either of them wins today, he will probably win Rookie of the Year as well. (Assuming Charl Schwartzel doesn't win something big in the remaining tournaments. Technically he's a rookie too -- a rookie with a Masters under his belt.)

Neither is it fair to say that either is unprepared for this test. While it's pretty well known that Bradley is the nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley -- a winner of 6 majors herself -- both he and Steele are being mentored by Phil Mickelson. Likewise, co-leader Jason Dufner (-7) may not have won on Tour yet, but Vijay Singh has been mentoring him. These three "unknowns" are better prepared for this stage than many more experienced players.

Scott Verplank (-5) and Steve Stricker (-4) may not have won majors, but both have won numerous times and are used to Ryder Cup pressure. I suspect they'll do ok, don't you?

And Anders Hansen and D.A. Points, the guys at -3,  both have wins on the Euro and PGA Tours, respectively. They at least know what it's like to face the pressure of winning.

I won't go any lower on the leaderboard than that. The guys at -2 and below could win if they get hot and post another of the 64s we've already seen this week. They may be at least 5 off the lead, but there are only 7 players ahead of them -- certainly not too many to fall victim to the final 4 holes. After all, that stretch is the reason so many of those name players aren't in the lead anymore.

And bear in mind that the Rees Jones redesign of the course clearly doesn't favor one type of player over another. As long as you can control your ball reasonably well (Rees-onably well?), you can win at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

With that in mind, I thought I'd give you a quick look at how the leaders have played holes 15-18 over the last 3 days. Perhaps this will give you some idea who's got the upper hand.
  • Brendan Steele -- E , E , +1 (total +1)
  • Jason Dufner -- -1 , E , -2 (total -3)
  • Keegan Bradley -- E , E , E (total E)
  • Scott Verplank -- +1 , +1 , -2 (total E)
  • Steve Stricker -- -2 , +1 , E (total -1)
  • Anders Hansen -- -1 , +1 , E (total E)
  • D.A. Points -- +1 , +1 , E (total +2)
As you can see from the bold type, Jason Dufner has far and away played this stretch the best. If it comes down to the final 4 holes, my money's on Dufner.

Of course, nothing's for sure on the last day of a major. But it's probably a safe bet that we'll see our 7th consecutive first-time major winner today... and quite possibly the first American winner since Phil Mickelson. The 2011 PGA Championship is definitely up for grabs -- a fitting final major for this topsy-turvy year of golf.

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