JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Jason Dufner couldn’t have seen this coming. Not after missing the cut in his last four tournaments.
Ditto for Keegan Bradley, whose career is just getting started. Heck, he’d never even played in a major until he got to Atlanta Athletic Club.
But there they were Friday, sharing the top spot on the leaderboard midway through the PGA Championship.
“It’s cool to look around and see all these guys I’ve looked up to my whole life and able to be peers with them and compete at the highest level with them,” Bradley said.
At the moment, no one is competing at a higher level than Dufner and Bradley.
Dufner shot a 5-under 65 on a day when the average score was nearly eight strokes higher. Bradley was even better, turning in a 64 that left them tied at 5-under 135 on another blistering day in Georgia.
“I hadn’t played very well this summer,” said Dufner, who hadn’t made a cut since the Byron Nelson Championship in late May. “But that’s kind of par for the course for me, so I took three weeks off coming into this event.”
Properly refreshed, he came into the year’s final major feeling a bit more confident about his chances than one might expect.
The 34-year-old played his college golf at Auburn, about a two-hour drive from Atlanta, and still lives there. He’s used to competing in the heat and humidity. He’s comfortable putting on the Bermuda greens that are common in this part of the country.
“Being in the South, playing college golf in the South, I seem to play most of my good events around Bermuda grass,” Dufner said. “I was pretty pumped up coming in. We don’t get a chance to play too many majors on this grass.”
He’s never won a PGA Tour event. This would be quite a spot to get his first one.
The 25-year-old Bradley already claimed his first win - coincidentally, at the Byron Nelson - but he’s still best known as the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley.
He runs into plenty of people who have no idea who he is.
“The worst one is when you sign an autograph and the kid looks at you and asks you what your name is,” Bradley said. “That’s the worst one. I’ve gotten that a bunch of times this week. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a surprise that I was up there.”
He and Dufner aren’t the only ones who seemingly came out of nowhere to challenge for the Wanamaker Trophy.
The group at 136 included D.A. Points, a 34-year-old journeyman who claimed his first Tour win in February at Pebble Beach, and John Senden, a 40-year-old Australian who hasn’t won a tournament in five years.
Brendan Steele is among those two strokes off the lead - and, if you’re not sure who he is, well, he did win this year’s Valero Texas Open. However, hardly anyone noticed because that was the week after the Masters and most of the top players were enjoying some time off.
Still not obscure enough?
Well, meet 46-year-old Brandt Jobe, whose last win came at a tournament in Japan - 14 years ago. He’s never won in two on-and-off decades on the PGA Tour, but he was right in the mix at Atlanta after totaling 137 over the first two days.
Of course, the majors are filled with 36-hole leaders who were never heard from again.
Senden, for one, knows he can’t be satisfied with being in contention on Friday. He wants to be there on Sunday.
“I need to step it up, go out there and really want it, feel good about myself and go do what I’ve been doing the last couple of days,” the Aussie said.
At least he won’t have to worry about Tiger Woods chasing him down on the weekend.
The 14-time major champion missed the cut. So did defending PGA champion Martin Kaymer. As did the guy who would’ve been in a playoff with Kaymer if he hadn’t grounded his club in a pseudo-bunker on the 72nd hole, Dustin Johnson.
Even the more prominent players who made it through have some work to do. Phil Mickelson was six shots off the lead. U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy faced an eight-stroke deficit and was nursing an ailing wrist.
There were only three major champions among the top 25 - Jim Furyk, Trevor Immelman and Davis Love III, all with one title apiece.
“I’m sure it would be different if Phil was up there or those other guys,” Bradley said. “But these guys are all great players. It’s not like they just kind of stumbled up there. They’ve been out here a long time. They’re great players. They’ve contended in tournaments.”
Not one like this, however.