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A True Cinderella Story Possible at the PGA Championship

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 8/13/2017 Brad Reagan
© Warren Little/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—More than golf’s other majors, the PGA Championship is attainable for the underdog.

This is the event that gave the golf world John Daly, after all, and its Wanamaker Trophy is inscribed with one-hit wonders like Rich Beem and Shaun Micheel.

This year could produce a doozy as well.

RELATED:  PGA Championship leaderboard

Chris Stroud, ranked 203rd in the world, will enter Sunday’s final round at Quail Hollow one stroke behind leader Kevin Kisner. Arguably the captain among the legions of those who didn’t anticipate Chris Stroud competing for a major? Chris Stroud.

The 35-year-old Texan confessed earlier this week that he recently resigned himself to the idea that he would never win on the PGA Tour at all, much less claim a major championship.

“I gave up on it,” he said, having decided: “I don’t know if I’m good enough.”

Then he won last week’s Barracuda Championship in Reno, Nev.—when the game’s more accomplished players were clashing at the Bridgestone Invitational—to qualify for the PGA. And, after opening the week with back-to-back rounds of 68, Stroud posted a steady even-par 71 in the third round that will put him in the last group on Sunday.

To win, he will have to overtake the tenacious Kisner—a local favorite—and fend off three elite players within two shots of the lead.

The biggest threat will likely come from Hideki Matsuyama, the Japanese phenom who is the world’s third-ranked player and on Friday said he hit too many bad shots to count—and that was after he shot a course record 64. The 25-year-old labored to a 73 on Saturday, and immediately went to the practice range. He enters Sunday tied with Stroud at one shot back but as the favorite to win, even given the pressure of delivering Japan its first major championship.

Justin Thomas, the 24-year-old bomber often overshadowed by his pal Jordan Spieth, is two shots back, along with South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen, the only major winner in the top 15.

One thing that seems clear is that the winner won’t storm to the title with a barrage of birdies on the final holes. Quail Hollow’s closing three holes—the so-called “Green Mile”—is playing as the toughest such stretch on the PGA Tour.

Kisner limped home with a double bogey on 16 and a bogey on 18, while former world-number-one Jason Day closed with the dreaded snowman—an 8 on the 18th hole—that likely dropped him out of contention.

The Green Mile’s biggest victim was Rickie Fowler, who played the final three holes in four over par after making a push to the top of the leaderboard. Entering the final round six shots back, he will need a special performance on Sunday capture his first major.

Of course, that is true for most of the field, with superstars such as Spieth and Dustin Johnson out of this championship. For his part, Stroud insisted after his round Saturday that he will feel no pressure at all, and will literally just be happy to be there.

“It seems that whatever I’ve done in the past has been just trying to force things, and I’m doing the opposite. I’m just allowing things to happen, and it seems to be a lot easier,” Stroud said.

Stroud said he would stick closely to the same routine he’s kept the past couple of weeks, keeping in mind the advice of “Crash” Davis, from one of his favorite movies, “Bull Durham”: “respect the streak.”

Write to Brad Reagan at Brad.Reagan@wsj.com

Scenes from the PGA Championship (Provided by USA TODAY Sports)

Justin Thomas celebrates with the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 99th PGA Championship at Quail Hollow. This week at the 2017 PGA Championship
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