JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — Don’t be put off by some of the unfamiliar names on the PGA Championship leaderboard. This is going to be a fun Sunday.
Why? Because we’ve got a bunch of relatively unknown young guys who have never won a major championship, or even contended in one, against a bunch of well-known older guys who have managed to never win a major. Something has to give tomorrow.
It’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that the winner could come from the group of players tied for 20th at even par, seven shots back. That group includes Phil Mickelson and Hunter Mahan, among others.
Atlanta Athletic Club has yielded some low numbers. In the third round, David Toms shot 65 and Brendan Steele, Charl Schwartzel, Mahan and Ben Crane shot 66.
It also delivers big numbers. Luke Donald got to five under par but gave back three shots on the last two holes, and Jim Furyk hit two balls in the water at the 18th and did well to salvage a double bogey.
Saturday is known as moving day, but Sunday could see players moving up and down. Here are my 10 most-likely-to-win picks:
1. Steve Stricker. I’m not picking him because he’s a fellow Cheesehead. Besides, I’m barely an honorary Cheesehead, having moved out of Wisconsin in 1989. I’m going with the pride of Edgerton because he’s the best putter on the leaderboard. He also hits it straight. He got his nervous round out of the way on Friday and got out of the spotlight, which he’s not fond of. Stricker shot 69 on Saturday and is solidly in fifth, three shots back. Always back the best putter, even if he’s still majorless at 44.
2. Brendan Steele. He plays like a Steele Curtain. If you follow Steve Elkington on Twitter (and if you don’t, you should), you’ll know that Elkington loves Steele’s “educated hands” and how he won in the wind in San Antonio on one of the hardest Tour setups all year. Steele had only one hiccup Saturday — a double at the seventh — but he wielded his long putter like a genius. In fact, he had a Steve Stricker day with his long wand. He’s an up-and-comer.
3. Charl Schwartzel. The Masters champ had a bogey-free round today and has played well all week. He’s just had a few glitches, which can be costly at AAC. Charl suffered a pair of doubles the first day (he visited the water at No. 18), and on Friday he fell victim to the brutal finishing holes, playing the last four holes in four over par. Give him mulligans on a couple of swings this week and he would be right there with Remington and The Duff. Remember his finish at Augusta? Yeah, this guy really is that good.
4. Adam Scott. It’s hard to believe, but caddie Steve Williams hasn’t hit any shots for him this week, either. Scott is on a roll, swinging it beautifully; he’s just not putting quite as confidently as he did last week. He’s still right there, tied for eighth, five shots back. If he can reignite his long putter, he’ll be a factor. He’s hitting it too well not to be.
5. Keegan Bradley. Bradley is a delightful young man full of enthusiasm. After he and his caddie drove from The Greenbrier to Akron last week, he called his dad, who asked if he’d seen the famous Firestone water tower shaped like a golf ball on a tee? Yeah, Keegan told his dad, and it was cool. He’s loving it out here and acting like it’s just another tournament. That’ll be tougher to do on Sunday, but he’s got game. I saw him play in college at St. John’s, and he wasn’t this good, but he’s for real now. Love his game and his attitude, and having Phil Mickelson as a mentor is going to help.
6. Jason Dufner. This guy is a ballstriking machine whose precision reminds me of Lee Westwood. Unfortunately, his short putting looked a little like Westwood, too, or The Duff would have a three-shot lead going into Sunday. If you can win this PGA by ballstriking your pursuers to death, The Duff can do it. This is uncharted territory for him, but he was impressive on Saturday.
7. Scott Verplank. He’s cut in the Stricker mold, a straight hitter who chips and putts like an artist. He poured in a long birdie putt at 17 and rolled in a 20-footer to save par at 18 and finished five under, two back. Yes, he’s 47, but if the course is set up tough on Sunday and turns into a chipping-and-putting contest, he’s got to be one of the favorites.
8. David Toms. He won the 2001 PGA Championship here, and he played a terrific round on Saturday, making a birdie at 18, where he laid up and made par to win a decade ago. He’s rediscovered his form, nearly winning The Players and then winning the next week at Colonial. Like Stricker, he’s straight and can putt, a winning combo. Don’t write him off because he’s five back.
9. Luke Donald. He got it going Saturday only to dunk one at 18 for a double. He’s six back, so he’ll have to go low, but he’s the No. 1 player in the world for a reason. Save your wise-guy remarks about that reason being that he’s terrific at finishing third. He’s still in this.
10. Nick Watney and Lee Westwood. We’ve seen Watney get hot with the putter, a great complement to his sweet ballstriking. He’s six back, just like Westwood, who would be near the lead if he could buy a putt. He joked post-round about what he could change that might help, “I don’t know, maybe a different religion?” Westwood is baffled by these greens, and he has one last day to figure them out.