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Unknowns on the verge of PGA breakthrough

Two rookies, a guy with no triumphs in six years on the US PGA Tour and a 47-year-old veteran with one victory in the past decade will play in the final groups on Sunday at the PGA Championship.

The Americans are not exactly household names of golf like Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson but Keegan Bradley, Brendan Steele, Jason Dufner or Scott Verplank could become sport’s next major champion.

“It just shows the depth and how good guys are these days,” Steele said. “You’ve got younger guys and older guys and guys in the middle and everybody is playing at a high level.”

Steele, a 28-year-old US rookie who won the Texas Open in April, fired a four-under par 66 on Saturday at Atlanta Athletic Club to share the lead with Dufner, who fired a 68, on seven-under par 203.

“I missed four cuts coming into this event, so maybe I’m a little bit surprised to be in the final group of a major,” Dufner said.

“Probably I’ll be a little anxious. You could probably call it nerves, but it’s anxious to get out there and get going and see how I can stack up.”

Bradley, a 25-year-old rookie who won the Byron Nelson title last May, was third on 204 with Verplank (47) who joined the PGA a quarter-century ago, fourth on 205.

Steele hopes to become the first man to win while making his major debut since compatriot Ben Curtis at the 2003 British Open. The last major debutante champion on US soil was Francis Ouimet at the 1913 US Open.

“You can only want something so much,” Steele said. “My expectations are just to go play a solid round and if it’s good enough, then great, and if not, then this is my first major so hopefully first of many.”

Last-day pressure
None of the leaders has any experience with last-day major pressure, which could leave them all vulnerable to more savvy foes and major champions lurking below par. But it could be liberating as well, Dufner figures.

“It could be a good thing, might maybe make me a little more relaxed knowing everybody is in the same boat struggling with those emotions and thoughts and the mentality of trying to win a major,” Dufner said.

“But I just feel like if you’re playing good, you should be confident, and obviously I’ve been playing really well. I don’t worry about bad shots or bad scores. I feel like confidence wise I’m really at a peak.”

‘I’m just a rookie’
For Bradley, superstar dreams and a solid chance to win a major are still dazzling achievements.

“I’m just a rookie starting out,” Bradley said. “I’ve got a long way to go to be a superstar. But I would love to be up there in that category. That’s why I play. I know it’s why a lot of guys play.

“I’ve got a good chance tomorrow in a major. It’s kind of amazing. It’s hard to believe.”

A week after posting a Twitter message that said if golf was going to be this tough he was never playing again, Steele is sharing the lead at a major.

“I was just hitting it terribly, the worst I’ve hit it in recent memory, and it kind of carried over into the start of this week,” said Steele, who sorted out his woes by talking with pal Scott Piercy, who only made the field by winning last week in Reno.

Dufner, winless in six PGA seasons, does not count out Steele and Bradley because they are untested in majors.

“This might be their first major, but they have experiences as far as playing tournaments and winning tournaments and I think that goes a long way,” Dufner said. “The names might change, the atmosphere might change but I think it goes a long way. I think that’s why those guys have been real successful.” – AFP

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Jim Slater
Jim Slater
Sports Editor Agence France-Presse (AFP).

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