The virtual PGA Championship: Surprising Longshots

SHEBOYGAN, WI - AUGUST 16: Jason Day of Australia poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2015 PGA Championship with a score of 20-under par at Whistling Straits on August 16, 2015 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
SHEBOYGAN, WI - AUGUST 16: Jason Day of Australia poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2015 PGA Championship with a score of 20-under par at Whistling Straits on August 16, 2015 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

These players don’t figure to win the virtual PGA Championship, but they have the records to surprise

Of the 68 competitors in the virtual PGA Championship, most have little chance of actually winning the event.  Based on their career records, the best they can hope for is probably a top 10 finish.

Based on the average standard deviation of each player’s best 10 consecutive years of competition, 27 of the 68 rank below the field average score, which is -0.35 standard deviations. Those 27 simply have too many players with superior records ahead of them to view them as more than field fillers.

Listed chronologically based on their (first) PGA Championship, those 27 are: Bob Hamilton (1944), Jim Ferrier (1947), Lionel Hebert (1957), Bob Rosburg (1959), Bobby Nichols (1964), Dave Marr (1965), Dave Stockton (1970, 1976), John Mahaffey (1978), David Graham (1979), Larry Nelson (1981, 1987), and Hal Sutton (1983).

Also Hubert Green (1985), Bob Tway (1986), Wayne Grady (1990), John Daly (1991), Paul Azinger (1993), Mark Brooks (1996), Davis Love (1997), David Toms (2001), Rich Beem (2002), Shaun Micheel (2003), Padraig Harrington (2008), Y.E. Yang (2009), Martin Kaymer (2010), Keegan Bradley (2011), Jason Dufner (2013) and Jimmy Walker (2016).

With no disrespect toward those players, our focus on the tournament’s eve will shift to another 19 who do not stand out as favorites, but who do nonetheless rank above the field average. As a consequence, their potential to at least get some attention along the way cannot be ruled out. In a paragraph each, and listed in order of the strength of their rating, they are:

  • Paul Runyan, 1934, 1938 (1932-1941), -0.70. Runyan is best recalled today  as a teaching pro. But in 1934 he ran through  a tough field, taking out Johnny Farrell and Vic Ghezzi among others on his way to a title match with Craig Wood. He won that match with an eight-foot putt on the 38th hole. His 1938 victory came in an 8 & 7 final over Sam Snead.
  • Jason Day, 2015 (2010-2019), -0.69. Since his tournament debut in 2010, Day has four top 10s including his 2015 victory and a runner-up finish in 2016. In 2015 he took the lead with a Saturday 66 and beat Jordan Spieth by three strokes.  In his 2016 defense at Baltusrol, he fired four rounds of 68 or better but came up one stroke short of catching Jimmy Walker.
  • Vic Ghezzi, 1941 (1938-1947), -0.65. Ghezzi took the final pre-war major in dramatic fashion. At Cherry Hills in July of 1941, he defeated Lloyd Mangrum 1-up in a 36-hole semi-final. A heavy underdog against Byron Nelson in the championship match, Ghezzi trailed by three through 27 holes, rallied to tie and then missed a four-foot putt on the 36th green that would have given him the win. He missed another 10-foot birdie putt to win on the first extra hole, but took the title when Nelson missed a three-foot par putt on the 38th hole.
  • Ray Floyd, 1969, 1982 (1967-1976), -0.64. In 1969 Floyd held or shared the lead after every round, but still had to hold on to stave off Gary Player by one stroke. He repeated in 1982, again leading every round and this time beating Lanny Wadkins by three strokes. He nearly took a third title at Congressional in 1976, finishing one stroke behind Dave Stockton.
  • Henry Picard, 1939 (1932-1941), -0.63. Picard’s 1938 title could not have come under more dramatic circumstances. One hole down to Byron Nelson with three to play, he made a par-saving 35-foot putt on the 34th hole, then birdied the 36th hole to send the match into overtime. On the first extra hole, Picard sank a seven-foot birdie putt, then watched as Nelson missed a five-footer to keep the match alive.
  • Steve Elkington, 1995 (1989-1998), -0.63. At Riviera, Elkington shot a Sunday 64 to get into a playoff with Colin Montgomerie. Moments later, Elkington rolled home a 25-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole.
  • Tommy Armour, 1930 (1925-1939), -0.59. Armour won the 1930 PGA in a dramatic confrontation with Gene Sarazen, and he took Sarazen down on Sarazen’s home course, Fresh Meadow. With the match even coming to the final green Armour rolled home a 12-foot putt that died into the cup, then watched Sarazen miss his tying 10-footer
  • Al Geiberger, 1966 (1965-1974), -0.59. Geiberger seized the lead from 36-hole leader Sam Snead with a Saturday 66, then made his two-over 72 stand up on Sunday to beat Dudley Wysong by four.
  • Dow Finsterwald, 1958 (1957-1966), -0.57. Finsterwald trailed third round leader Sam Snead by two strokes entering the final round of the first PGA Championship played at medal play. But he rallied with a closing 67 while Snead came home in 73, giving Finsterwald a two-stroke win over Billy Casper.
  • Walter Burkemo, 1953 (1952-1961), -0.55. Burkemo was little-known when he raced through a weak field to take  the 1953 championship. One of the game’s three reigning stars, Ben Hogan, chose to play the British Open instead, and the others, Sam Snead and Cary Middlecoff, were upset, by Dave Douglas and Jimmy Clark, in the second round. But Burkemo had an unusually strong PGA record; he finished second to Snead in 1951, and to Chick Harbert in 1954.
  • Don January, 1967 (1960-1969), -0.54. At Columbine, January and Don Massengale finished 72 holes at seven under, one stroke ahead of Jack Nicklaus and Dan Sikes. In the 18-hole playoff, January beat Massengale by three strokes for the title.
  • Payne Stewart, 1989 (1985-1994), -0.53. Stewart seemed out of contention coming to the final holes Sunday. But he birdied four of the final five holes, then watched leader Mike Reid play the last three in three-over par to give Stewart a one-stroke margin.
  • Jim Turnesa, 1952 (1944-1953), -0.52. This was the fifth time a member of the Turnesa family played for a major professional championship, and the first victory. Brother Joe had finished second to Bobby Jones in the 1926 U.S. Open, and to Walter Hagen at the 1927 PGA. Jim was runner-up to Sam Snead at the 1942 PGA, six years before brother Mike lost to Ben Hogan. Jim had also finished third in the U.S. Open in 1948 and 1949.
  •  Julius Boros, 1968 (1961-1970), -0.51. The two-time U.S. Open champion was 48 and given little chance in the summer heat of San Antonio’s Pecan Valley. But Boros managed one of Sunday’s few sub-par rounds, a 69, to catch and pass third-round co-leaders Marty Fleckman and Frank Beard. He finished one ahead  of Arnold Palmer and Bob Charles.
  • Chandler Harper, 1950 (1946-1955), -0.49. Harper took out Lloyd Mangrum in the quarters and Jimmy Demaret  in the semis, sending him against lightly regarded Henry Williams in the final. Harpr played indifferently, but Williams’ morning 79 still endowed him with a four-hole lead entering the final 18, and he wrapped up the match in 33 holes.
  • Jeff Sluman, 1988 (1986-1995), -0.49. At Oak Tree, Sluman fired weekend rounds of 68-65 to pass Saturday leader Paul Azinger and win by three strokes. At the par five 5th hole, Sluman slam-dunked a 100-yard wedge for an eagle three.
  • Vijay Singh, 1998, 2004 (1996-2005), -0.46. Singh dominated the field at Sahallee, seizing the lead from Tiger Woods with a 66 Friday, and following with rounds of 67 and 68. That was good enough for a two-stroke margin over Steve Stricker, Woods finishing eight behind.
  • Jerry Barber, 1961 (1954-1963), -0.45. At Olympia Fields, Barber sank putts of 20, 40 and 60 feet on the final three holes to catch Don January, each player at three-under. In the playoff, Barber beat January by a single stroke.
  • Lanny Wadkins, 1977 (1977-1986), -0.36. Wadkins became champion during the first sudden-death playoff in major championship history. He beat Gene Littler on the third extra hole after both players had tied at six-under 282 at Pebble Beach, Jack Nicklaus finished one stroke out of the playoff.

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Check back later this afternoon for results from the first round of the virtual PGA Championship.