JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Brendan Steele sounds like a guy who could win the 93rd PGA Championship in his first try in a major.
His name sounds as if it were invented by some Hollywood agent. It’s a heroic sounding name, a tough guy’s name.
It’s the kind of name movie studios give action heroes heading into haunted forests filled with danger, which is a good thing, because that’s how Atlanta Athletic Club sets up for Sunday’s final round.
The year’s final major championship feels like it’s careening toward a scary ending.
There will be so much pressure at the end of Sunday’s final round, so much trouble, with bunkers and water looking to devour hopes and dreams and wayward shots.
They say Rees Jones redesigned the final four holes here, but I don’t believe it.
If you told me Wes Craven, John Carpenter or Stephen King designed them, that would make sense.
If you told me the greenskeeper was named Edgar Allen Poe, I’d believe that.
The final four holes promise to have you on the edge of your seats watching.
“It’s the toughest four-hole stretch we play all year,” said Steve Stricker, the highest-ranked American in the world.
Scott Verplank was asked if he could come up with a name for these final four holes.
“Can I cuss?” Verplank said.
How about 'The Highway to Hell’?
Steele and Jason Dufner share the lead going into the final round at 7-under 203, a shot better than Keegan Bradley.
None of them has ever won a major championship, but they’re in good company. The top seven players on the leaderboard have never won the big prize.
David Toms, 10 years out from winning his only major, and Charl Schwartzel are the only players among the top 12 who’s won a major.
It’s true, these guys are good, and somebody will take home the Wanamaker Trophy. Still, given the nature of this course, and the lack of experience at the top of this leaderboard, it doesn’t feel like this finish will be about who wins the trophy as much as it will be about who loses it, about who survives.
Arnold Palmer built a seven-shot lead in the final round of the U.S. Open in 1966 at Olympic Club and lost. Greg Norman blew a six-shot lead in the final round of the Masters in 1996. Jean Van de Velde blew a three-shot advantage at the final hole of the British Open at Carnoustie in ’99.
I fear this championship may be set up to give them company in the Hall of Historic Collapses.
The 18th hole has already caused so much calamity this week, heartbreak seems preordained there.
The finishing hole has yielded 121 bogeys, 37 double bogeys and 16 dreaded “others” through three rounds. That’s more bogeys, double bogeys and “others” than any other hole on the course. In fact, the 16 “others” are more than the combined “others” on the entire front nine.
“To stand up on the 18th hole with the lead, you’re not going to be whistling Dixie,” Verplank said.
The smart play for the leaders at the 18th Sunday may be to ditch their caddies for a priest, rabbi or witch doctor in a bid to ward off all the evil spirits.
Of course, the hole can be had, but it takes some smarts and nerve.
Verplank made par there Saturday, holing an 18-foot putt after laying up.
Steve Stricker made par laying up, too.
Toms won the PGA Championship laying up at the Atlanta Athletic Club’s final hole in 2001. He birdied it Saturday and has played the hole in 2 under for the week.
“Somebody is going to have to play it well tomorrow no matter what,” Steele said. “It may only take a bogey to win it.”
Whatever it takes, it will be an upset if the drama doesn’t come down to a scary final shot at the 18th.