Like the cyclists in the velodrome at the London Olympics, Keegan Bradley drafted the back nine in the wake of Jim Furyk’s apparent wire-to-wire victory pace passing him on the last leg on the way to a 64 and a stunning come from behind victory in the WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
Playing in the final group with Jim Furyk who set a torrid pace with birdies on the first three holes on Sunday, Keegan just kept himself within sight of the leader until they turned the back nine. Starting with two birdies on the back and a scrambling par on 12 Keegan had that look in his eye that he was not going to be shaken off the leader’s pace.
The key moment was probably at the 16th hole. Louis Oosthuizen who was two back at the time pulled the Tiger Woods Houdini flop shot from the spinach behind the green to make an unlikely birdie and get within one of Furyk. Furyk playing with the confidence that had built his the lead through 69 holes would not be outdone, he make a 25-footer of his own for birdie to maintain his position. Keegan then made a statement, making a 15-footer on top of Furyk to stay within striking distance one back.
With a one-shot lead, apparently Furyk failed to heed the warning message screened on his side view mirror coming down eighteen. When they both failed to hit the green in regulation it was Keegan who made a miraculous up and down par from a plugged lie in the green side bunker and Furyk who blinked taking two shots from off the green to get on and two more putts on the way to a disappointing double bogie and a two-shot swing.
As we saw with Keegan at last year’s PGA, this young guy has a knack for making big putts. He was first or second in all three of the putting stats this week averaging just 26 putts a round over the four days. As to the final 15-foot par putt that forged him into the lead he said, “I didn’t think for a second I was going to miss it….I knew exactly how it was going to break….I just needed to hit it hard enough….and it was dead center”.
Steve Stricker played some outstanding golf himself shooting 64 on Sunday. Putting like the Stricker of old he birdied four of the last five holes in a final sprint that grabbed a share of second place.
With only the PGA Championship next week between them and the eight automatic Ryder Cup Team assignments, Keegan consolidated his grip on a valued position moving from 9th to 4th on the list. Both Stricker (moving from 13th to 10th) and Furyk (moving from 15th to 11th) have positioned themselves for a final push next week. Finishing outside the top 15 this week, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker, and Dustin Johnson all have serious work to do if they want to avoid begging for a captain’s choice.
The FedEx Cup Playoffs with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow are less than a month away. Serious jockeying for improved position in that race is going on and Furyk and Stricker both moved up significantly to get into the top 16. Keegan made the biggest move of all from 26th to 7th after today’s win. There will be a whole lot of listening for footsteps behind them as this qualifying race heads down the final stretch.