Keegan Leading With Presidents Cup on His Mind
By Stephanie Wei under FedEx Cup

Keegan's got a priority or three on his mind at East Lake

Keegan Bradley hasn’t heard from U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples yet, but he wishes he had. On Wednesday after he made eight birdies in his practice round, where he teamed up with Phil Mickelson in a match against Chez Reavie and Dustin Johnson.

The 25-year-old rookie, who has two wins, including a major, couldn’t hide the nervous yet enthusiastic expression on his face when asked about the biennial matches between the Americans and Internationals.

“I really want to be picked,” said Bradley on Wednesday. “It would mean a lot to me. It would put a nice end to my year. I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get picked, but I understand if I’m not.”

If Bradley already isn’t a lock for the last captain’s pick on the U.S. squad, he’s certainly making his case even stronger, firing an impressive six-under 64 in the first round of the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club. He rolled in seven birdies, one fewer than in his practice match yesterday, and one bogey, and finds himself atop the leaderboard.

Which is no surprise considering he seems to play well on Rees Jones’ redesigns — he captured the PGA Championship last month at nearby Atlanta Athletic Club. And guess who is right behind Bradley, just two strokes back? Jason Dufner. Can anyone say deja-PGA?

And Bradley says it’s no coincidence.

“I think these courses (East Lake and AAC) are very similar,” he said. “It looks very similar, but also it’s the exact same grass and on the greens.  I know I love this grass.  I grew up on bentgrass, but it seems like I’m way more comfortable out here for whatever reason.  The greens are immaculate, they’re identical to Atlanta Athletic Club, and I think we (Dufner and I) both liked the look of that course.”

His caddie Steve “Pepsi” Hale said Keegan’s ballstriking was flawless. I replied, saying I thought it was last week in Chicago, too, where Bradley was in sixth place through three rounds before shooting 76 on Sunday top drop to a tie for 16th. Apparently, he struggled a bit with his ballstriking, so this week, Keegan adjusted his alignment and stance a little, which seems to have done the trick.

While Bradley needs a little help from Luke “ATM” Donald, who doesn’t finish outside the top five, and Webb Simpson, one of the hottest players currently, among others, to win the FedExCup, winning the Tour Championship or just a solid finish would earn him a spot on the Presidents Cup.

Would he have foreseen being in this position at the beginning of the year?

“No, probably not,” said Bradley, who missed the cut at the first two playoff events. “I didn’t even realize it until a week after I won the PGA and somebody brought it up. It would mean a lot to play with Phil (Mickelson) and be on the team with him.”

Mickelson, who is represented by the same management company as Keegan, has taken the rookie under his wing.

“Keegan is a very solid player in all areas, and the thing about him that would be so deadly in match play is his ability on the green,” said Mickelson after shooting a two-under 68 Thursday. “He makes some 10‑ to 30‑footers, and if he doesn’t, it looks like they’re going to go in, even if they don’t.  I think that would be a very tough combination in a match play format, in any format.”

Bradley doesn’t think he’s a lock for the 12th spot, naming three or four other players in the running. Asked how much pressure he’s feeling on trying to make the team, he skipped the cliche answer — you know, that he’s not thinking about it and focusing on the tournament  — and instead, he admitted it’s very much on his mind.

“Literally, probably every third hole or maybe even less it pops into my mind,” he said in his post-round presser. “You know, I really want ‑‑ I say it every time, I really want to be on the team, but I want to earn my way onto the team just like I’m going to have to.  If the captain and assistant captains think I’ve done enough to get on the team, they’re going to pick me.  And if they don’t, that’s totally fair, too.”

Presidents Cup points are accumulated over a two-year period, but since Keegan is a rookie, he’s only had one year to earn points, yet still finished 20th on the list. The standings closed as of last Sunday after the BMW Championship and the top ten automatically earned their way onto the U.S. squad. Since captain Fred Couples prematurely announced Tiger Woods as one of his captain’s picks, there’s only one spot left.

The frontrunners are Keegan, Brandt Snedeker (11th in Prez Cup points) and Bill Haas (12). Thing is, Bill’s dad Jay Haas is an assistant captain, which could cause cries of nepotism unless, perhaps, Bill won this week.

“I feel bad for Bill because I don’t think he’s going to get picked unless he does something spectacular (this week), which is unfair,” said Snedeker on Wednesday at East Lake. “I think BIll’s had a great two years and he deserves it as much as anyone else does, but unfortunately, I don’t think he has the leeway that me and Keegan have because Bill’s dad is a captain.”

Snedeker was disappointed with his finish at the BMW Championship after finishing tied for third at the first two playoff events. So was Haas, who needed to shoot 75 in the final round at Cog Hill to make it on points, but posted an unfortunate 78, including a 42 on the back nine at Cog Hill last Sunday.

“I think it’ll be me, Keegan or Bill,” said Snedeker. “I think you can make a case for any of us. Obviously Keegan has the strongest case because he’s had such a great year, but I don’t think you could go wrong with any one of us. It just depends who Freddie likes the most at the time I guess.”

For now, Bradley isn’t thinking so much about the FedExCup and the $10 million (which if he won, first thing he’d buy is a really nice fishing rod and tackle) — just winning the tournament.

After all, that usually takes care of everything, doesn’t it?

But in my humble opinion, Keegan is pretty much a lock to fill the 12 spot on the U.S. team. Now I couldn’t think of a more ideal way to cap off an already dream rookie year (well, maybe if it were a Ryder Cup year).

(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)