Could a Palmer win the PGA?

August, 8, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- For a certain generation of fans, the sight of the name Palmer near the top of a leaderboard summons the swashbuckling image of one iconic figure, and no, we're not talking about Ryan.

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Ryan Palmer
Warren Little/Getty ImagesFor the second straight day, Ryan Palmer birdied the 17th and 18th holes to get to 7 under at the 96th PGA Championship.

Arnold Palmer never won a PGA Championship, which 37-year-old Ryan Palmer is trying to win here at Valhalla, 50 years after a native son of Louisville, Bobby Nichols, beat Arnold in one of his several near-misses.

At the time of the 1964 PGA in Columbus, Ohio, a 34-year-old Palmer owned seven major titles (he'd won his fourth Masters title that year) and was expected to grab a bunch more. Down one stroke entering the final round, Palmer shot 69 to Nichols' 67 and ended up in a second-place tie with Columbus' own Jack Nicklaus.

Arnie became the first player to lose the PGA Championship despite shooting four rounds in the 60s. He never again won a major, and settled for three legs of the career Grand Slam.

But while playing in Nicklaus' backyard, Palmer did score at least one moral victory. Mason Rudolph, who was paired with Nicklaus and Palmer at Columbus Country Club, said the following of those in attendance: "The crowd was 50-50, or even a little toward Arnold."

Palmer finished his PGA Championship career with six top-10s and three runner-ups. In 1968 he landed a stroke behind 48-year-old Julius Boros, the oldest of all major winners, after ripping a 3-wood out of the rough and then missing an 8-footer that would've forced a playoff.

In 1970, Palmer placed two shots behind Dave Stockton, who was inspired by an Arnie's Army loyalist who heckled him after a three-putt early in the last round.

"You've got him now, Arnold," the fan shouted.

"As soon as he shouted it," Stockton would say, "I said, 'Aha, Arnold's really got me. We'll see.'"

Over the closing two rounds at Valhalla, Ryan Palmer won't have quite the same fan support as he tries to run down Rory McIlroy.

In fact, the former Texas A&M player won't even be the most watched former Aggie over the weekend, not with a certain second-string quarterback of the Cleveland Browns taking some snaps in a preseason game against Detroit.

But if Ryan Palmer does claim his first major title, he'll put a surname on top of a final PGA Championship leaderboard that belonged there a long time ago.

Ian O'Connor

ESPN Senior Writer
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »