Unknowns Steele, Dufner share lead in Atlanta
Want to track your favorite player on Sunday? Here are the pairings and tee times.
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - Brendan Steele grew up in Idyllwild, Calif., a town with a higher altitude than population (approximately 4,000 people live in the mountain town about 6,000 feet above sea level). The town didn't have any golf courses, so he had to drive 30 minutes to pursue the passion that he picked up at 12 years old. His father, Kent, the town lawyer, constructed a practice bunker and artificial green in the backyard to help his son's habit.
Steele started playing golf after watching his half-brother, Sean Steele, win the 1996 club championship at Newport Beach Country Club. Brendan Steele has gotten progressively better each year. Now the 28-year-old has the 54-hole lead in his first major championship.
Steele shot 66 Saturday and is tied with Jason Dufner (68) at 7-under 203, giving this PGA Championship two unlikely leaders. They're one ahead of Keegan Bradley (69), like Steele a PGA Tour rookie contending in his first major. Steele and Bradley are good friends and common practice-round partners.
Steele's first professional victory came on the California-based Golden State Tour. He shot 63-64, then won a playoff to collect about $1,400 for his $450 entry fee. The paychecks are starting to get a bit larger. Steele won last year's Nationwide Tour Championship, his first victory in three seasons on the developmental circuit, to earn his card. He started that week ranked 30th on the money list; the top 25 at week's end earned Tour cards. His $180,000 paycheck allowed him to graduate to the Tour this season. He won the Texas Open earlier this year, collecting $1,116,000 for his efforts. His 9-foot par putt on the final hole not only gave him the win, but got him in this field.
Dufner, 34, is among the Tour's best players without a victory. He lost a playoff to Mark Wilson at this year's Waste Management Phoenix Open, and finished fifth at last year's PGA Championship. Like Steele, it's been an atypical path to this point.
"When I got done with school, I thought, what am I good at?' " said Dufner, a walk-on at Auburn. "I wasn't really good at anything else. I was pretty good at this golf thing, so why not work hard and give it a try?"
Dufner has slowly progressed, playing a handful of seasons on the Nationwide Tour before getting to the PGA Tour in 2007, seven years after he turned pro.
Dufner's goal each season? To secure his card by September so he can follow Auburn football. He has a chance to take care of his card for the next five seasons. That's what winning a major will do for you.