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PGA Championship full of surprises

The PGA Championship's strength is its field and ability to surprise

Last call. Last call for a major title in 2017.

That’s what the PGA Championship is at its core – a sense of closure. The final chance on the calendar. Or at least it will be until 2019, when it moves to May. Someone either changes his life this weekend at Quail Hollow with a first major, or adds to his haul and his legacy. After this, it’s eight long months until the 2018 Masters.

Each major carries its own aura. The Masters with its tradition and beauty of an awakening spring, the U.S. Open with its demanding and sometimes merciless course conditions, the Open Championship with its long history and lousy weather. And the PGA Championship with a deep field, to start with. It’s nearly always off-the-chart good, even if Steph Curry has no tee time this week. And something else; a knack for providing the unexpected.

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This is the tournament John Daly won as the ninth alternate in 1991, rushing to Crooked Stick in Indianapolis as if he was on a fire run, and shooting a first round 69 without one minute of practice on the course.

This is the tournament that saw Y.E. Yang chase down Tiger Woods on Sunday in 2009, back when Woods was thought uncatchable when wearing his final round red.

This is the tournament John Mahaffey won in 1978, coming from seven strokes down on Sunday. And Keegan Bradley won in 2011, after trailing by five shots with three holes to play. He became only the third man in nearly a century to take home the trophy from his first-ever major.

This is the tournament Lee Trevino won in 1974, using a putter he had found in the attic of a rented home.

This is the tournament Gene Sarazen won at the age of 20, and Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods at the age of 23. And Julius Boros at the age of 48.

This is the tournament Al Geiberger won in 1966, munching on peanut butter sandwiches along the way to keep up his stamina. Apparently, he told them to hold the jelly.

This is the tournament that saw a nine-way tie after the first round in 1959, eventually won by Bob Rosburg, who shot 71 that day.

This is the tournament Sam Snead won in 1942, the day before he reported for Navy service in World War II. And Jack Burke Jr. won in 1956, beating Ted Kroll, who had a Purple Heart from the war. Both were in match play, which is how the PGA was conducted thorough 1957.

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This is the tournament Vietnam veteran Larry Nelson won in 1981, at Atlantic Athletic Club, less than a half-hour from his home. And Gary Player finished second behind Raymond Floyd in 1969, keeping his composure even as on-course protesters tried to disrupt him, with South Africa’s apartheid as their grievance.

This is the tournament Jack Nicklaus won five times, but Arnold Palmer could not win once, not in 37 tries. Nor could Tom Watson in 33. Palmer became the first man to ever play four PGA Championship rounds in the 60s in 1964, and still lost to Bobby Nichols by three shots. Watson led by five strokes going into Sunday in 1978 but was beaten in a playoff by Mahaffey. Clearly, fate was against them in the PGA.

And this is the tournament Jimmy Walker won last August at rain-drenched Baltusrol, playing 36 holes on Sunday to do it. It completed a rare 2016 that saw a clean sweep by first-time major winners at the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA. The maiden grand slam.

Walker, by the way, also won the 2016 par-3 contest at Augusta, which comes with lots of laughs, but no green jacket. So he started the major season and ended it on top. He will be back to defend his PGA title this week, even while dealing with Lyme disease.

“I’ve enjoyed teeing off this year and having that said before I tee off,” he said the other day about life as PGA champion. “It sounds cool. You stand a little taller. I get a really cool parking spot at my club now.”

A repeat would be compelling, but then there are a lot of compelling stories ready to be hatched. Jordan Spieth, with a chance to complete the career grand slam at the age of 24. Hideki Matsuyama, just off a 61 to win at Akron, his reputation growing by the week. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, in their 100th majors. Dustin Johnson, whose 2017 headlines include the No. 1 ranking in golf, a 439-yard drive last week, and falling down the stairs before the Masters. Webb Simpson, not only playing on his home Quail Hollow course but with his house just off the seventh tee.

So many possibilities. Majors do that. Last call for 2017. It won’t be that way in two years.

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