When Keegan Bradley stood on the 18th tee on Sunday, he was hoping to make birdie and force a playoff at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. As it happened, he dropped in a clutch 15-footer to save par, putting the pressure on Jim Furyk, who was trying to close out a wire-to-wire victory. Furyk had fluffed his first chip and his second attempt left him with about five feet for bogey. He missed. In fact, the ball didn’t even hit the hole.
Bradley had walked off the green to get out of the way and gasped in shock — and probably a bit of excitement realizing that he had won — covering his mouth with his hand.
“To be honest with you, I hate to keep saying this, but when I’m out here on Tour and stuff like this happens, it doesn’t seem real, it seems fake,” said Keegan in his post-victory press conference who was still enthused. “I realize I’m speaking but it doesn’t seem like words are coming out of my mouth.”
It does seem almost unreal, which makes it a great story. Just a few years ago, Keegan was struggling to make ends meet while playing on the mini tours. Then he finished T34 at Q-school in 2009 to earn full status the Web.com Tour in 2010. He finished in the top 25 on the money list to graduate from the PGA Tour’s developmental tour and get his card into the bigs for 2011.
He flew under the radar for the first part of the season and then beat Ryan Palmer in a playoff to clinch his first Tour victory at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. And then he captured the PGA Championship in a four-hole playoff against Jason Dufner.
51 weeks later, Keegan has a World Golf Championship to add to his resume. There will be those who say Furyk lost and handed the victory to Bradley, who did what he needed to do, firing a solid six-under 64 in the final round at Firestone CC (10 strokes better than last year when he shot himself out of contention).
For Keegan, the game-changer came on the 10th hole.
“On 10 Jim hit just an unbelievable shot in there, and he had about four or five feet, and I had about 20,” he said. “And I think that would have had him to go up four on me if I missed and he made. I knew it was a big moment, and I made it and he missed, and it was a huge swing in the momentum of the tournament.”
Bradley also rolled in an 11-footer for birdie on No. 16 after Furyk dropped in his 17-footer.
“I led the golf tournament the entire way and lost it on the very last hole,” said Furyk, who let the U.S. Open slip away in the last few holes less than two months ago.
One thing we’ve learned this season is that no lead is safe. What happened on Sunday at Firestone shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, it was the 11th time on the Tour in 2012 that the winner rallied from at least four shots at the start of the day.
In addition to the $1.4 million check and a WGC title, Keegan locked up a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Going into the week, he was 9th in the points standings — the top 8 after the PGA Championship earn berths. The win bumped him up to 4th, which should be good enough to make the team. Last year he was controversially left off the Presidents Cup team when captain Fred Couples chose Bill Haas and Tiger Woods as his two wild-card picks. Bill’s dad Jay Haas was one of Freddie’s assistant captains.
Bradley wanted to make the team really badly. So badly that it may have impacted his game. His caddie Steven “Pepsi” Hale said there was a period this spring/summer where their results were poor. He believes it was because Keegan was thinking about the Ryder Cup.
“I try not to let people know how much it means to me, but I think about it every second,” said Bradley. “I probably shouldn’t even be saying that. But I just want to be on that team so badly. I was so close last year, and it would just mean so much to me to be on that team. I hope that this is enough to get on there.”
I’m pretty sure he’s in the clear. Which makes the win all the more sweeter.
Next stop? He’ll try to defend his title at the PGA Championship.
(AP Photo/Phil Long; Getty Images/Gregory Shamus)