By Steve Eubanks, PGA.com Contributor
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- With the top five and seven of the top 12 players going into Sunday’s final round at the PGA Championship carrying U.S. passports, this looks like the perfect time for the American major drought to come to an end. After all, it’s been six majors since someone who understands a ground rule double hoisted a major trophy.
There’s only one problem: one of the leaders, Brendan Steele, is playing in his first major championship ever, while his co-leader, Jason Dufner, last won at the 2006 LaSalle Bank Open on the Nationwide Tour. The only major champions in the top 10 are David Toms and Charl Schwartzel, who are tied for eighth at 2 under, five shots back of Steele and Dufner.
So, is this the week for American golfers to break their major losing streak?
“I hope so,” said Steve Stricker, who sits alone in fifth at 4 under. “There are guys that can come from behind who have nothing to lose, and then there are a lot of first-timers up at the top. I don’t know how far back you’ve got to go to find a major championship winner there.”
Besides Toms and Schwartzel, the answer is 13 spots -- where Jim Furyk sits at 1 under. Beyond that, to find a major champion you have to tumble down to Phil Mickelson who is tied for 20th at even par, and then Trevor Immelman who is tied for 30th at 1 over
“Yeah, I think It’s time (an American won),” Steele said. “That would certainly be something to write about.”
It would also be something to write about if Steele won the very first major he ever played. A graduate of the Nationwide Tour, Steele cut his teeth on the Canadian Tour and, before that, the pay-your-own-way mini-tours of California and the Southwest. But he seems not at all shaken by his lack of major experience, or the fact that the hopes of America lie on his and Dufner’s inexperienced shoulders.
“Everything has been new this week,” Steele said. “I’ve been very excited just to be here. It will probably be different for a major championship, but it’s still golf. If I play well, then I expect to have a good day, and if it’s enough to win then that’ll be fantastic.”
This is the seventh major since an American won, so history could be made on two fronts. First, we could have the first U.S. player not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy since Shaun Micheel way back in 2003. We could also have the first American major winner of any kind since Mickelson won the 2010 Masters. And we could go four-for-four on crowning first-time major winners this year.
Schwartzel won his first major at the Masters; Rory McIlroy captured his first at the U.S. Open; Darren Clarke finally broke through with a major at the Open Championship, and this PGA Championship is more likely to crown a first-timer than not.
“It could be a good thing,” Dufner said, “might maybe make me a little more relaxed knowing that everybody is kind of in the same boat, struggling with those emotions and thoughts and the mentality of trying to win a major. But I just feel like if you’re playing good, you should be confident.”
Those are words from someone who has never slept on the lead in a major. But at least he has company. “You know, I can’t control what other guys do,” Steele said. “But if I go out and play solid, then I think I’ll have a good chance.”
It will be a good chance at history. Let’s just hope he doesn’t think about that too much before heading to the first tee on Sunday.