Bradley comes back from the depths to win BMW

Writing from Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

Monday, September 10, 2018

The day Arnold Palmer would have turned 89

Six years removed from his last victory, Keegan Bradley had receded into the memories of many. He’d won a PGA Championship, he had a quirky stutter-step approach to the ball, and he was LPGA legend Pat Bradley’s nephew.

As he discarded the long putter when the anchoring bad was implemented, he’d also disappeared from leader boards.

He’s back. Scoring a tournament-record 20-under-par 260 brought him back, but he still needed to beat Justin Rose, who nearly always wins when big-time golf comes to Philadelphia. It took a playoff, but Bradley pulled it off, saving par while Rose bogeyed on the first playoff hole at Aronimink Golf Club to capture a rain-soaked and mud-caked BMW Championship.

Not bad for someone who went to bed Saturday night knowing he was within the top 30 for Tour Championship qualification thanks to big par putts on the last two holes of his third round, and would stay there if the final round was wiped out.

“It was the weirdest couple of days,” Bradley said. “I thought, man, if they call it I’m good, but I’m also glad I’m only three back. Thankfully we got out here and played, and I made it to Atlanta and more now.”

Bradley, who finished with his second 6-under 64 of the week, had birdied the 14th, 16th and 17th holes to get to 21-under and the lead, but bogeyed the last with a drive to the muddy left rough and an approach into the luxury suites to the right to fall back to 20-under.

“I played that 18th hole so bad,” Bradley said. “A mud ball on my second but a bad putt and the worst drive I hit all week. It left a bad taste in my mouth.”

Rose came in at 260 in the following group via a closing 3-under 67. He also bogeyed the last, leaving his second shot well short when his 4-iron was killed by a gust of wind, then failing to save par.

They would play the 18th again, and this time Bradley found the fairway, put his second in the collar 23 feet from the cup, and got up-and-down for his four.

Rose had made all 48 putts inside of five feet in regulation, but in the playoff from 7-feet 8 inches, he found the left edge. Bradley had no trouble converting from 17 inches for his first victory since 2012 at Firestone, erasing the bad taste. Within seconds, he was lifting wife Jillian and son Logan in the air as high as he’d lift the J.K. Wadley Cup.

“I thought to win and to have my son there, that would be the most incredible feeling,” Bradley said. “I’d seen it on TV so much. That was just awesome.”

His ride from PGA champion and a three-time winner, the last time at Firestone in 2012, to the bottom and back up was a difficult one, complicated by changing from the long putter to a conventional one.

“I went back and forth from an arm lock to a short putter, but I didn’t get mechanical with the long putter,” Bradley said. “When I got my swing to where it is, I was able to really sit down and focus on the fundamentals of putting with an arm putter.”

Bradley said watching Webb Simpson adapt similarly helped him immensely.

Two weeks ago at the first playoff tournament at Plainfield Country Club, he was in the final twosome after a third-round 62. He shot 78, and it looked like the Bradley of old was replaced by an old Bradley.

Not so Monday, when the delayed final round was conducted.

“I was calm today,” Bradley said. “I wasn’t calm that day.”

Part of his demeanor came from eyeing the leader boards, a departure from his norm.

“There were so many players up there and the quality of the players, I needed to know,” Bradley said. “It made me feel calm, which is rare.”

Rose climbed to No. 1 in the world rankings anyway, a decent enough consolation prize.

“It’s a boyhood dream,” Rose said of the achievement, which comes without a trophy but with a great deal of pride.

There almost wasn’t a playoff. Rose hit his third shot on the 72nd hole to 16 feet and had a nearly-straight putt to save par and win.

“I hit a great putt in regulation to win it,” Rose said. “It’s the best putt I’ve ever hit to try and win a tournament.”

It lipped out on the right side, prompting a groan from those remaining from the gallery of about 5,500 fans playing hooky from work on a dreary day.

“It’s obviously a big consolation being world No. 1,” Rose said. “That’s something I will look back on and think it was an incredible achievement, an incredible moment.

“Give me a half-hour maybe and I might be able to say I really enjoyed it.”

Billy Horschel (closing 6-under 64) and Xander Schauffele (3-under 67) tied for third at 19-under 261. Horschel raced to an opening 5-under 30, but a bogey on the par-4 15th, sandwiched between a pair of birdies, hurt his cause. Schauffele rallied with birdies on the 15th and 17th, and needed one more.

Rory McIlroy had a day that might have been spectacular. He hit 16 of 18 greens and made but two birdies on a bogey-free day, finishing solo fifth with a 68 for 18-under 262.

Tiger Woods gave it a late run, but his 5-under 65 for 17-under 263 and a share of sixth with Webb Simpson wasn’t enough. In retrospect, his even-par 70 on Friday was the damper on his week. The field averaged 67.333 strokes that day, and he failed to take advantage.

“At the end of the season, to make it back to the Tour Championship after all I’ve been through is a pretty good accomplishment,” Woods said.

Woods is also exempt into next year’s U.S. Open. His 10-year pass from his 2008 victory ran out this year.

The moment, though, belongs to Bradley. Undoubtedly a cowbell or two has been rung back home in Massachusetts, that tradition started by the parents of aunt Pat after her LPGA triumphs. How he played all week rang especially true on Monday.

The race to East Lake

Bradley, who started the week 52nd, and Xander Schauffele moved into the top 30 and earned a berth in the Tour Championship next week. Emiliano Grillo and Jordan Spieth fell out of the charmed circle.

For Spieth, it’ll be his first failure to get to Atlanta since he arrived on Tour with a flourish five years ago. He finished with a 3-over 73 for 3-under 277, tying for 54th in the BMW and ending up 31st in the season standings.

That also means he’ll fall one short of the 25-tournament minimum Tour players must play, unless they play in a previously-unvisited tournament once every four years. He could get fined $30,000, which would make the week a loss for him since he earned 20,520, but also be suspended for up to the first three tournaments next season, which is to say, in a few weeks. Of course, those are tournaments he doesn’t play in anyway, unless he’s told to to avoid the fine.

“I assume it will either be a fine or I’m adding some in the fall,” Spieth said. “I’m not sure. I was in control of my destiny and didn’t have it this week.”

Around Aronimink

Keegan Bradley won $1.62 million. Justin Rose settled for $972,000. Brian Harman, 68th and last, collected pocket change of $18,360. ... Paul Casey withdrew before the round, citing a bad back. He was locked into the Tour Championship, having arrived at Aronimink 17th in the standings. ... Ryan Armour’s 6-over 76 was the high round of the week and dropped him from a tie for 21st to a tie for 51st. ... The field averaged 68.912 for round four and 67.884 for the week, the first time a PGA Tour tournament field has averaged under 68 strokes. The last two rounds were played under lift, clean and place. ... It was the 18th playoff in Western Open / BMW Championship history, and the first since 2000, when Robert Allenby beat Nick Price at Cog Hill. ... The scoring mark of 260 eclipsed by a stroke the 261 fired by Marc Leishman last year at Conway Farms Golf Club. Leishman tied for 41st at 6-under 274.

Tim Cronin

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