A major test for Leonard

Originally Published: August 14, 2004
ESPN.com

Justin Leonard has had three great days at the PGA Championship. He's shot 66-69-70 for an 11-under 205 heading into the final round, and trails Vijay Singh by one stroke.

Leonard
Leonard

But the big question remains: Does Leonard, who hasn't won a major since the '97 British at Royal Troon, have what it takes to close out the best players in the world on Sunday?

These points were discussed and argued. In the end, well, one of us probably won't be invited over to Justin's for a barbecue anytime soon.

Can Justin Leonard win on Sunday?
YES

Nobody is expecting Justin Leonard to win the PGA Championship on Sunday.

He's had a mysteriously subpar year, with just a single top-10 finish back in February. He was not a factor at the other three major championships. And he's bunched among superstars Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els heading into the final round at Whistling Straits.

All of which might be the best thing for Leonard.

He isn't supposed to win. Which very well means he might.

The pressure is on Singh to add a major championship to his 1998 PGA and 2000 Masters titles. For all the talk about Tiger Woods not winning majors, Singh has gone the longest among the game's top players (save Davis Love III) without claiming one, and he dearly needs this.

Leonard's needs are not quite the same. Two years ago, he held the third-round lead at the PGA Championship but faltered to a final-round 77 and was left in Rich Beem's wake. Leonard says now he has a perspective he didn't have then, that he can live with the result either way.

That's a good attitude to have, especially if he is being outdriven by Singh, who is playing some incredible golf.

But Singh has not closed the deal in a major in a long time, and although Els and Mickelson lurk, they are three shots behind Leonard. Nobody would be surprised to see him slip away on Sunday. Don't be surprised if he's holding the trophy, either.
-- Bob Harig

NO

Justin Leonard is a good PGA Tour golfer. Not great. Not even above average.

And certainly not capable of hanging with the big boys -- Vijay, Phil and Ernie -- down the stretch on Sunday.

A big name in the world of golf? Sure, he's got wins in each of the last four seasons, he won the '97 British Open and he rolled the Putt Heard 'Round the World at the '99 Ryder Cup.

But what have you done for me lately, Justin Leonard? Well, for starters he has one top-10 this season, and that was way back on Super Bowl Sunday. And he's 74th on the money list, behind such luminaries as Joe Ogilvie and Brian Bateman (no, not the guy from Teen Wolf Too).

But enough about Leonard because, honestly, Sunday will be all about Vijay Singh, anyway. Singh is a classic final-round finisher. He owns four titles already this year and hasn't lost in the last seven times he's led after a Saturday.

If -- and it's a big if -- Singh does falter down the stretch, Els or Mickelson will be right there to swoop in for the win. Leonard's simply not in the same class as these three players.

Justin Leonard's had a nice week. He's smiled a lot, waved to the galleries and he'll take home a lot of great memories from Whistling Straits.

But he won't be taking the Wanamaker Trophy with them.
-- Jason Sobel

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