Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner share the lead entering the final round of the PGA Championship in Johns Creek, Ga.

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — As the shadows grow longer Sunday evening over Atlanta Athletic Club, a golfer on or near the lead at the PGA Championship will step to the 15th tee and might need merely to survive.

It might be obscure third-round leaders Brendan Steele or Jason Dufner, or any of the 17 other players no more than six strokes off the lead. The season’s final major tournament has been difficult to define to this point because only true golf insiders know most of the characters in and around the lead. But it is hard to imagine the tournament won’t be defined by a brutal, four-hole finish.

“I don’t think there’s another stretch that I can remember that’s this difficult coming in,” said Tiger Woods, long before he missed the cut Friday and departed.

Steele, a 28-year-old Californian, had never played a PGA Tour event before this season, and this is his first major championship. He is ranked 121st in the world. He won the Texas Open earlier this year, a turn of events that, he said, “kind of blew my mind.”

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Dufner, 34, walked onto the college team at Auburn and has won nothing this side of the second-tier Nationwide Tour. He is ranked 80th in the world and has missed so many recent cuts that, before this event, he hadn’t played a competitive PGA Tour round on the weekend since May.

Dufner could take his chubby face and waggling swing onto any municipal driving range anywhere in the country, hit a bucket of balls and walk out unnoticed.

Both men — Steele behind his 66 Saturday, Dufner with a 68 — are at 7-under 203 through three rounds. The pack in pursuit is hardly star-studded. Keegan Bradley (69), a Tour rookie who also won earlier in the season in Texas, trails by a shot. Scott Verplank (69), the 47-year-old who played at Oklahoma State, is two back.

Steve Stricker (69) brings what amounts to star power, though it is doubtful the majority of people in the sweat-soaked galleries here could recall he is the highest-ranked American in the world, at No. 5. He is three strokes behind.

“I think it just shows the depth and how good guys are these days,” Steele said.

That might be true. But the player who steps to the 15th tee with the lead Sunday — be it Steele or Bradley in their first majors, Dufner in his 11th or Stricker in his 50th — will have to deal with his own nerves and an unrelenting stretch of holes.

“You’re really going to need to commit to the shots that you’re hitting,” Steele said.

“Any sort of wishy-washy-type play there is not going to get it done.”

Go to the scorecard.

No. 15 is a par-3 hole of 260 yards — with a large bunker to the left. And another to the back right. And that is if you carry the water that guards all but the very left portion of the green.

“It’s too long,” Stricker said of the hole. “It doesn’t need to be that long.”

No. 14 just starts the fun. The 16th is an uphill, 476-yard, dogleg-right, par-4 hole with a fairway protected by three huge bunkers on the right and a green protected by two more large traps.

The 17th is, in some sense, the breather, a par 3 of “only” 207 yards. But it is entirely over water and there are bunkers in the back; the field has made 32 scores of double bogey or worse in three rounds.

Then there is the finishing hole. On the scorecard, it lists at 507 yards — and is a par 4.

Expect it to play that length Sunday. Saturday, it was a mere 484 yards, but still with the narrowest of landing areas. Water guards the entire left-hand side; bunkers dot the right.

“It’s a tough hole,” said David Toms, who won here in 2001. “And I’m not afraid to lay up.”

Steele came to the 18th Saturday with a two-shot lead over Dufner and Bradley. Off the tee, he found the third bunker on the right. With 235 yards in, he resisted temptation and laid up. But he could not get up and down from 97 yards, and his closing bogey brought him back closer to the pack.

Ryan Moore (76) of Puyallup is tied for 71st at 10 over.


Travis Hampshire (9-under 63) and Steve Friesen (68) share the lead at 18-under 198 after three rounds of the Price Cutter Charity Championship, a Nationwide Tour event in Springfield, Mo.

Ex-Washington Huskies player Richard H. Lee (71) is tied for 58th place at 6 under.

Third-round leaders
PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, Highlands Course. Yardage 7,467. Par 70.
Golfer Scores, to par
Brendan Steele 69-68-66 — 203 -7
Jason Dufner 70-65-68 — 203 -7
Keegan Bradley 71-64-69 — 204 -6
Scott Verplank 67-69-69 — 205 -5
Steve Stricker 63-74-69 — 206 -4
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