KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – The PGA Championship has delivered its share of unlikely winners over the years, particularly one stretch in the 1990s when eight of its 10 champions that decade won their first major.
Go back to 1990, and the PGA Championship produced the most players who won only one major in their careers.
A year ago at Atlanta Athletic Club, Keegan Bradley was tied for the lead through 36 holes, and Brendan Steele had a share of the 54-hole lead. This was remarkable because both of these PGA Tour rookies were competing in their first major. Even more surprising was when Bradley made triple bogey on the par-3 15th hole and was trailing by five shots with three holes remaining. He wound up winning in a playoff over Jason Dufner.
Surprise winners can mean different things to different people, but here are five big ones to consider over the years:
5. LITTLE POISON BEATS THE BLOND BOMBER
Craig Wood was an impressive figure in golf, known as the 'Blond Bomber' because of his good looks and his ability to smash the ball a long way. He met his match in a man that seemed half his size, Paul Runyan, who went by the nickname 'Little Poison.'
This was the 1934 PGA Championship at Park Club of Buffalo, and it might have been a surprise on paper.
Wood knocked out Denny Shute, 2 and 1, in the semifinals. That put him up against Runyan, a former pupil and an assistant pro under Wood.
Wood built a 1-up lead in the morning round, and he regained the lead in the afternoon with an eagle on the 29th hole. Runyan won back-to-back holes to take the lead, only for Wood to square the match by nearly holing his approach on the 35th hole. With the title on the line, both made birdie putts on the 36th hole to force overtime. Runyan beat him on the 38th hole by making an 8-foot par putt.
It was the first of two PGA Championship titles for Runyan, and it set the tone for Wood's career in other ways. He went on to lose the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in playoffs, too. Greg Norman, another blond bomber of sorts, lost all four majors in a playoff in stroke play.
4. THE FORMER CAR STEREO SALESMAN
Rich Beem had all but given up on a career in golf in 1995 when he walked away from the Dakotas Tour and took a job selling stereos and cell phones in Seattle. He eventually decided to give golf another try, and it's a good thing.
He won the 1999 Kemper Open, and two weeks before the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, he won the International. Still, no one gave him much of a chance. He started the final round at Hazeltine three shots behind Justin Leonard, who was going for his second major. Still in the mix was Tiger Woods, who won the first two majors of the year and was trying to become the first player to win the 'American Slam' – the three U.S. majors in one year.
Leonard vanished quickly and closed with a 77. Woods was poised to pounce. Beem never buckled.
He hit a 5-wood into 6 feet for eagle on No. 11 to seize control. Woods put together a stunning charge with birdies on his last four holes for a 67. Instead of folding, Beem answered with a 35-foot birdie putt on the 16th, allowing him to make bogey on the final hole for a 68 and a one-shot victory.
It was the first time Woods had been runner-up in a major – to a former car stereo salesman, no less.
'I'm still surprised at myself,' Beem said.
3. THE POST-WAR UPSET
The PGA Championship was the only major held in 1944 because of World War II, held at Manito Golf & Country Club in Spokane, Wash. Bob Hamilton was a lightly regarded player, who had served as the pro at Fort Lewis, Wash., in the latter years of the war. His only win was at the North & South Open earlier that year.
Byron Nelson already had won four majors, including the 1940 PGA, and this was one year before he ran off 11 straight win. He easily advanced to the finals in the 1944 PGA Championship, with his closest match a 5-and-4 win in the second round.
Hamilton was a long shot, but he put up a good fight over the first 18 holes when both players shot 70. Hamilton won the first hole of the afternoon, and Nelson never led again. Nelson did square the match with a birdie on the 33rd hole, only for Hamilton to regain the lead with a birdie on the next hole. The 18th hole at Manito was about 300 yards, and Nelson came up short in thick rough. He pitched to 10 feet. Hamilton also was short, but played his chip to about 20 inches. Nelson missed, and had Hamilton putt for the win. He calmly sank the putt for his only major.
2. THE NINTH ALTERNATE
John Daly was a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie from Arkansas, not known except for those who had witnessed his prodigious tee shots. He was the ninth alternate for the 1991 PGA Championship, but decided to drive through the night to Crooked Stick in Indiana. When he arrived, the light on his hotel phone was blinking with a message. Nick Price had withdrawn to be with his wife for the birth of his son. No other alternates were on sight. He was in.
And what a debut.
Daly opened with a 69, then really turned heads in the second round with a 67 to take the 36-hole lead. Would he fade? No chance. Price's caddie hung around to work for Daly, and it was easy to detect the voice of Jeff 'Squeaky' Medlin who said as Daly stood over tee shots, 'Kill it.' Did he ever.
Daly closed with a 71 for a three-shot win over Bruce Lietzke, the start of an up-and-down career marked by suspensions, divorces, gambling debts and eventually another major championship at St. Andrews.
1. THE TIGER SLAYER
Death. Taxes. Tiger Woods with a 54-hole lead in a major championship.
Fourteen times in his career, Woods had at least a share of the lead going into the final round of a major. Fourteen times, he won. The 2009 PGA Championship did not seem as if it would end any differently. This was his final chance to extend his streak of winning a major for the fifth straight year, and he opened with a 67 to take the lead, and then stretched his lead to four shots going into the weekend at Hazeltine.
He played conservatively Saturday afternoon, and one birdie on the back nine gave him a 71. Still, it gave him a two-shot lead over Padraig Harrington and Y.E. Yang, a South Korean who had gone through Q-school the previous year and won the Honda Classic in the spring. Yang also had won the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, with Woods in the field, though no one gave him much of a chance Sunday.
Woods started missing putts, and they were tied going to the back nine. Woods took the lead with a two-putt birdie on the 606-yard 11th hole, only to give it back with a poor tee shot on the 12th. The turning point came on the 14th, when Yang chipped in for eagle on the short par 4. He kept a one-shot lead going to the 18th. Yang hit a hybrid just over the bunker to 12 feet, and holed the putt for birdie. Woods made a meaningless bogey for 75 to finish three shots behind.
Yang became the first Asian male to win a major. Woods has never come that close to winning a major since then.