Bill Nichols

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Keegan Bradley breaks through for first win at HP Byron Nelson Championship

IRVING _ Keegan Bradley was overlooked as a high school recruit because, well, how many golfers have come out of Woodstock, Vermont?

His nine victories in college attracted little attention because he played at St. John’s, not exactly a golf powerhouse.

Bradley is so under the radar that during the HP Byron Nelson Championship somebody kept parking in his reserve spot at the Four Seasons. So he took the available No. 1.

But on Sunday, overshadowed in his pairing by 17-year-old Jordan Spieth, Bradley broke through for his first victory. He beat Ryan Palmer on the first playoff hole. Joe Ogilvie and Ryuji Imada tied for third, one stroke off the leaders’ 3-under 277 score.

Defending champion Jason Day shot 67 to finish fifth, Colleyville’s John Rollins tied for sixth with Matt Kuchar, and Spieth’s remarkable run ended in a tie for 32nd.

``Going under the radar is kinda my thing,’’ Bradley said. ``I hope to someday not go under the radar, but I’m fine with it.’’

Bradley shot 2-under 68 on the breezy TPC, which blew away contenders like candles.

He made only one bogey, and cruised through the difficult finishing stretch unscathed to post the Nelson’s highest winning score in relation to par since Bruce Lietzke’s 1-over score in 1981. Only five players finished under par.

By carving out a par from the trees on the first extra hole, Bradley enhanced his visibility considerably.

The 24-year-old became the youngest winner on Tour this year, the third rookie winner, and the sixth first-time winner.

``Winning out here is so difficult,’’ Bradley said. ``I’m so proud of the way I played to win Byron Nelson’s tournament. That’s an amazing thing for me. I grew up idolizing Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson, and to win this championship, his trophy, to see Peggy Nelson out there on the green, it’s an unbelievable feeling, and it’s surreal.’’

Even within his family, Bradley has played second fiddle. His aunt, Pat Bradley, was a Hall of Famer on the LPGA Tour. She’s one of his biggest supporters, and often offers him advice.

``No question I’ll talk to Pat tonight,’’ Bradley said. ``She is a lot calmer on the golf course than she is watching me. I’m sure she was by the TV going crazy _ my uncles and aunts, my mom, dad. I talk to her regularly about tournaments. This is the closest thing we’ve ever had in terms of playing.’’

After making par on 18, Bradley waited as the final waves of players rolled in.

Joe Ogilvie bogeyed 16. Ryuji Imada bogeyed 15, 17 and 18. Colleyville’s John Rollins double-bogeyed 17, and Matt Kuchar bogeyed 14, 15 and 16. Finally, in the final group, Palmer knocked his approach to six feet for only the second birdie on 18, the most difficult hole.

On 18, Bradley sent his drive right, into a grove of trees behind a mobile concession stand. Palmer then drove right, also in the trees.

Officials scrambled to move the stand, chairs and other stuff blocking Bradley’s line. And Bradley motioned for the crowd to step back. Then he punched a 6-iron under the branches and around the trees. His ball stopped inches away from the slope leading to the pond, just off the fringe.

``I struck it perfectly,’’ Bradley said. ``As soon as I hit it, I could feel that it was good. I ran out and then I could see it coming down sideways, and I was thinking for a split second that thing could go in the water, and it sat right there. Two inches to the left, it goes in the water, so it was a good break but also a good shot.’’

Palmer, pumped after his pressurized birdie on 18, decided to go with driver even with Bradley in trouble. His second shot, from the trees, went too far left, into the water. Although he got up and down for bogey, Bradley negated that with his par.

``It’s one of the toughest, if not the toughest, tee shot I’ve hit all y ear long,’’ Palmer said. ``You’ve got the water and the wind, it’s blowing left to right, and the rough is so close-in that in any wind that catches it, it’s in the fans, in the trees, and you’re punching out for sure.’’

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