PGA Championship - Round Three
Credit: PGA of America via Getty Images

First teammates. Now foes.

That’s one of the many unique dynamics of playing golf. It’s an individual sport, but even at a young age, the best players in the world can get to know each other at team competitions long before they’re competing in front of millions of fans on TV.

At 8-under par and one off the lead heading into the final round, both Cameron Champ and Scottie Scheffler are in the hunt for their first major title at the 2020 PGA Championship. Scheffler will have to deal with the pressure of being paired with leader Dustin Johnson in the final group at TPC Harding Park. Champ will play with Collin Morikawa – both have deep ties to northern California - in the second-to-last group.

The two were teammates in 2012 as amateurs at the 8th Junior Ryder Cup at Olympia Fields (Ill.) Country Club, leading the Americans to an impressive 14.5-9.5 win over the European Team. The Junior Ryder Cup, a premier international team match-play competition, features a 12-person team (six boys, six girls) from the United States hosting their European counterparts. Champ contributed two points with two halves and a victory in a mixed four-ball match. Scheffler, a captain’s pick, went 0-3. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to envision these two budding talents someday competing as teammates again at the real thing.

If he wins the PGA Championship, Champ, 25, could become the first player since Steve Jones at the 1996 U.S. Open to make such a compelling climb up the leaderboard throughout the tournament. Jones was tied for 84th after the first day at Oakland Hills Country Club before eventually winning. Opening with a one-over 71, Champ sat in a tie for 68th after round 1 at the PGA Championship. A second-round 64, tied for the tournament’s low round, leaped the long-hitting Sacramento native into contention. Payne Stewart is the only player to win the Wanamaker Trophy after being in 68th place or higher after the first round: He was tied for 77th in 1989.

With two PGA Tour wins, Champ is confident in his closing abilities. “I'm sure whoever is in contention coming down the stretch, you're going to feel those nerves and the excitement and the adrenaline,” he said. “Again, like I said, it's something I'm looking forward to, something I'm going to embrace, and I guess, like I said, see where I fare after that.”

Scheffler, a 24-year-old from Dallas, has only played in 30 PGA Tour events since turning professional in 2018. He’s explosive, ranking among the top 12 on Tour in driving distance and birdies per round. He’s already posted a 62. His best finishes are two thirds: At the 2019 Bermuda Championship (tie) in November and The American Express at PGA West in January.

He could have the lead at the PGA Championship if not for a one-over 71 in round 2. His first round (66) and third round (65, tied for low round of the day) were spectacular. He had his momentum of three straight birdies stunted by a bogey on the 18th on Saturday. Nobody has more birdies (18) than Scheffler through three rounds. Keeping big numbers off the scorecard is paramount for Sunday success.

“(I’m) making sure I miss on the right side of holes,” he said. “On a major championship golf course, there's definitely some spots you can't get into or it can be very tough to get up-and-down.  Just make sure you miss on the wrong side, and if you do get in the wrong place, make sure you get the ball back in position and stay patient.”

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