None of the names near the top of the leaderboard Sunday at the PGA Championship are a bigger surprise than 34-year-old Finn Mikko Ilonen.
Ilonen enters the day at 9-under, trailing leader Rory McIlory by just four strokes — the best showing of his career at a major and by far his best at a tournament in the United States.
Here’s what you need to know about him:
1. Until This Year, He’d Never Made the Cut at a Major in the U.S.
In 14 years as a pro, Ilonen has made the cut at a major tournament just four times, and all three have come at the British Open.
His career appeared off to a promising start when he finished tied for ninth at the British Open as a 21-year-old rookie in 2001. But he’s appeared in only seven majors since then, missing the cut in four of them and never finishing better than tied for 16th, a feat he accomplished at the Open in 2006.
2. It’s Only His 2nd Appearance at the PGA Championship
Ilonen’s only other appearance at the PGA Championship came last year, when he missed the cut. That made it all the more eye-opening to everyone — including Ilonen — that he’s played so well on the tournament’s first two days.
Well.. That was by far my best round in America.. Ever. #PGAChamp
— Mikko Ilonen (@MikkoIlonen) August 7, 2014
Well.. That was the 2nd best round (ever) in US n A for me.. #PGAChamp
— Mikko Ilonen (@MikkoIlonen) August 9, 2014
Ilonen’s history at the Masters and U.S. Open is similarly forgettable. His only appearance at Augusta National came in 2001, when he missed the cut. He’s appeared at the U.S. Open twice — in 2010 and 2012 — and missed the cut both times.
3. He’s Won 4 Tournaments on the European Tour
Ilonen’s first win came at the 2007 Indonesian Open. He won later that year at the Scandanavian Masters, but didn’t win again until 2013, when he won the Nordea Masters by shooting a sizzling 21-under par.
His fourth win came at this year’s Irish Open, where he finished at 13-under and took home $447,000 (€333,330) — the biggest chunk of prize money he’s won on the European Tour.
A second-place finish at the Qatar Masters and his win in Ireland helped propel him into the world top 50 for the first time. (He’s since dropped to 54th.)
Top50 in OWGR! There is first time for everything… pic.twitter.com/IFjjMZU2or
— Mikko Ilonen (@MikkoIlonen) July 7, 2014
4. He Was the 1st Finn to Win the British Amateur & to Win on the European Tour
Ilonen won the Amateur Championship at Royal Liverpool in 2000, becoming the first Finn to win that title. Seven years later, his win at the Indonesian Open made him the first Finn to win on the European Tour international schedule.
He’s seeking a much bigger historical feat this weekend, though. No player from Finland or anywhere else in Scandanavia has ever won a major — something both Ilonen and Henrik Stenson of Sweden are trying to change. (Stenson enters play Saturday tied for ninth at 5-under.)
5. He’s Married With 2 Young Kids
Ilonen, born in Lahti, Finland, married his wife Kati in 2010. The couple has two young children: Eino, born in 2011, and Elma, born in 2013.
Flying home tomorrow. Cant wait to see my kids. pic.twitter.com/B1uTYPpIjR
— Mikko Ilonen (@MikkoIlonen) May 26, 2014
— Mikko Ilonen (@MikkoIlonen) June 25, 2014