Keeping Score

Bradley finds winning worth the wait

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Well, go ahead and say it. It was just another manic Monday.

Fortunately, the PGA Tour doesn’t have too many of those, even with a schedule that stretches across the calendar, practically end to end. Then Monday dawned at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia. Truthfully, it was one of those days when we really weren’t expecting to see golf. It was commendable that the PGA Tour was giving it the old college try to get in 72 holes at the BMW Championship, but players pretty much expected to show up to a course saturated by days of rain and be told they could scamper to their private jets and go their merry ways.

And then Monday happened. Wow. It was jam-packed, and filled with drama. Tiger Woods was in the hunt again. So was Rory McIlroy. Billy Horschel was enhancing the legend of being Mr. Playoffs. Xander Schauffele was trying to land the final U.S. Ryder Cup spot.

Keegan Bradley? Well, he began Monday morning unsure whether he wanted golf to be played. He was only being honest. Starting the week at No. 52 in the FedEx Cup playoff standings, Bradley made great par saves on his last two holes on Saturday to jump into sixth. Then rains washed out Sunday, and likely would do the same on Monday, which was OK. Solo sixth would be good enough to propel Bradley to next week's Tour Championship at East Lake, a place he had not been since 2013.

With rains finally subsiding (outside of a few showers), it meant there was golf to play, and Bradley was in peril of losing his hold on making it into the top 30. The Tour Championship is basically heaven to a Tour player, as getting there secures spots in all four majors and some of the WGCs for the season ahead. Then you can hunt. That’s a big carrot for a golfer who woke up at 66th in the world on Monday morning, a former major champion (2011 PGA) who had fallen outside the top 100 as recently as summer 2017.

So, Bradley played, and he’s happy that he did. When Justin Rose made bogey at the 72nd hole, then made another on the first playoff hole, Bradley was a tournament champion for the first time since the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (scores). That was 161 Tour starts ago, if you are keeping track on the odometer of golf misery and heartache.

In 2012-14, Bradley was busy playing on U.S. national teams. But when the U.S. Golf Association and R&A declared prohibition on the anchored stroke at the start of 2016 – and with it, Bradley’s beloved belly putter – his game pretty much went with it. It's tough to play well when the hole looks like a thimble. Bradley entered BMW week ranked 186th in strokes gained putting.

“The belly putter was a tougher transition than I thought,” he said, “and I kind of fell off the radar there for a little while.”

At BMW, he led the field in putting. Go figure. Bradley had put himself in position for solid weekends in each of the first two FedEx Cup playoff events. He played in the last group alongside eventual winner Bryson DeChambeau at Northern Trust and shot 78 Sunday, plummeting to a tie for 34th. A week later, Bradley got off to a hot start in New England, his old stomping grounds, only to stumble with closing rounds of 73-72. Otherwise known as T-49.

Monday was another big chance, and this time he answered. There was an almost eerie calmness about him as he peered at leaderboards. Starting at the 14th, he birdied three of the next four holes. But he yanked a poor drive at the 18th into a muddy lie and made bogey, likely handing away the tournament to the hard-charging Rose behind him.

Alas, Rose, the polished and graceful Englishman who’d won four times around the globe in the past year, just couldn’t handle prosperity. Bradley received new life when Rose’s putt for par at the closing hole took a peek inside the right edge of the hole and curled out. Shocker.

You want to see cruel? Check out a YouTube video of Rose’s putt. You want to see torture? Check out Bradley’s past few seasons.

“It's tough to go from being on Ryder Cup teams, being on Presidents Cup teams to not even … outside the top 100 in the world. That was difficult,” Bradley said. “I had to really sit down with my coach, Darren May, and we put a schedule together, and we worked hard to get back to this spot.

“It's so gratifying to get what comes with hard work. Sometimes you never even get it.”

And sometimes you do. That's why players keep chasing, and keep bashing golf balls until the sun drops out of the sky. Bradley moved up 35 spots, all the way to No. 31, in the Official World Golf Ranking with his victory; Rose’s consolation is that he is the world’s new No. 1. That would have been much easier to swallow with a tournament trophy next to him, but he’ll see better days.

And now we’re on to East Lake and the Tour Championship.

Bradley just missed out on climbing into the top five, a position that is accompanied with a golden ticket: Win the Tour Championship, and the FedEx Cup and its $10 million bounty is yours. The top-five starting grid for Atlanta: DeChambeau; Rose; Tony Finau, who earned Jim Furyk’s final Ryder Cup captain’s pick with his bogey-free 65 and T-8 finish; Dustin Johnson; and Justin Thomas, who held off Bradley by tying for 12th.

There is no tournament this week, which is saved for exhaling. Rest up, fans. The two weeks afterward should be epic. First, the Tour Championship, where 30 players will play for millions and millions of dollars; and then it's on to the Ryder Cup in France, where 24 men will vie for something far more significant: Pride.

And hopefully, by the grace of the weather gods, both will finish on a Sunday.

Jeff Babineau is a former president of the Golf Writers Association of America who has covered golf since 1994, writing for such publications as The Orlando Sentinel, Golfweek and Golf World. Email: jeffbabz@att.net. Twitter: @jeffbabz62


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