Steele's choice was impressive

IAN HUTCHINSON, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:20 AM ET

TORONTO - When Brendan Steele, your co-leader going into Sunday’s final round at the PGA Championship, elected to go with a seven-iron and just fly his shot to the back of the green on the treacherous 17th hole, he was thinking long term instead of the more immediate temptation to go for birdie.

Had Steele, 28, plunked it in the water, he would have done the expected and the voracious pack of dogs behind him on the leaderboard would have sensed the panic they’ll be looking for on Sunday, especially with a tour rookie sharing the controls.

Even if he did collect a bogey on 18, Steele managed to finish with an impressive four-under 66 while displaying the type of poise he’ll need big time if he is to prevail.

Steele’s co-pilot is a player who missed his wake-up call and still made his tee time. When Jason Dufner wakes up, he’ll be happy to discover that he sleep-walked to a 68 and a share of the lead at seven-under.

The jury’s still out on whether Dufner actually has blood, but if his expressionless demeanor indicates what’s going on inside, he has a useful tool as the world waits for him and Steele to unravel.

Behind them is an eclectic group of youngsters such as Keegan Bradley, 25, who is just one shot back and veterans such as Scott Verplank, two shots back, and Steve Stricker, three shots behind.

There is little doubt that Steele, Dufner and Bradley will each mess up at some point on Sunday. The key to success will be how they deal with their mistakes because things tend to go from bad to worse quickly at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

If that happens, the leaders could be prey for anybody even five shots behind them such as veteran David Toms, the last guy to win the PGA Championship at this venue 10 years ago. In that one, Toms laid up on the 18th hole, but still managed to beat Phil Mickelson by one.

That’s an example of the patience that will be required to maneuver this brute of a course on Sunday and Toms showed he’s still got game with a third-round 65. Adam Scott is in that group of five at two-under and playing well, but untimely hiccups are plaguing him.

Right behind them at one-under is a group of seven that includes names such as world No. 1 Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Nick Watney and veteran Jim Furyk, who stumbled through the final holes on Saturday, but like the others, is capable of charging.

That means a collision of epic proportions if the leaders shift into reverse, making the guy who comes out of the wreckage to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy the one who best steers around this course with a cool hand.

Changing trends

With seven of the top nine names on the leaderboard having stars and stripes beside them, it looks as if half of the recent trends in major championships might come to an end. While Americans are looking good to claim their country’s first major since Mickelson won last year’s Masters, only Charl Schwartzel, who was four-under on Saturday, Toms and Furyk have a reasonable chance to end the streak of first-time winners that also goes back to Mickelson’s Masters win … Last year, we had Dustin Johnson mistaking a bunker for a patch of dirt. This year, watch for a fried egg in a fairway bunker on 18 to bury somebody’s hopes or drown them if the water comes into play. Fried eggs and toast are a natural combination, but fried eggs could mean you are toast if it’s on the 72nd hole of the tournament.

Looking for a break

What seems to be confounding the players, especially late in the day, is the way the greens break ever so slightly as the ball gets close to the hole, a tough read for both line and speed … He’s made his name through success in the majors, but Rory McIlroy is showing character in diversity. McIlroy was five-over when he made the turn with his sore wrist, but kept grinding and finished with a birdie on the tough 18th for a 74. He must know he’s out of it by now, but then again, he knew he could hurt his wrist on that root in the first round, but went ahead and took his shot anyway. Expect him to take a good shot again in the final round and finish with his head high … One thing that won’t help Tiger Woods’ confidence after missing the cut is watching television coverage of the final two rounds with all the clips of him hitting out of bunkers and sinking water balls. Of course, Woods is TV’s meal ticket even when he isn’t playing and one priceless shot out of nowhere came as Scott was teeing off to start his third round. The CBS guys were quick to point out that Scott had beaten Woods by a combined 30 shots going back to the week before. What relevance that has with Tiger out of the picture was never explained.


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