PGA: A mad scramble
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. –Maybe it was inexperience at this level, but Keegan Bradley, PGA Tour rookie, was in trouble from the moment his opening tee shot leaked into a fairway bunker on the right. The lie didn’t seem especially demanding, but he put his second into a bunker up near the green, then was short again with his third, leaving the ball on the shoulder of a greenside bunker. The price: A double bogey-6, and a quick slide into the crowd down the leaderboard.
of bunch of strangers
Bradley’s next 17 holes would be instructive. In fact, the entire third round of this PGA Championship would be instructive – a leapfrogging scramble for room at the top, and with names not generally bandied about in 19th hole debates, what with Tiger Woods having missed the cut and Phil Mickelson still trying to figure out what to do with the golf ball. World No. 1 Luke Donald and World No. 2 Lee Westwood weren’t really counting in the scramble, and Jim Furyk, a three-time winner last year, was finally starting to pull this fading season together when he drowned his chances with a double bogey at the watery 18th. Donald shot 68, Westwood 70 and Furyk 73 to join a tie for 13th, six behind.
If it seemed the face of golf had changed before our eyes – it had. In fact, two of the leaders are not only 2010 graduates of the “developmental” Nationwide Tour, they’re playing in their first majors – co-leader Brendan Steele and third-place Bradley Keegan. And the other co-leader, Jason Dufner, also a Nationwide vet, has little to show but a few million for his nine years on the PGA Tour.
Steele, 28, who won the Valero Texas Open in April, changed his mind just in time. After chopping it around in the Bridgestone Invitational last week, he tweeted, “If golf is going to be like this, I’m never going to play again.”
Right. The voice of inexperience, if not terminal youth. He had his chance to quit Saturday, on that double bogey at the par-3 No.7, where his first putt came rolling back down to him. But he was sprinkling seven birdies around the Atlanta Athletic Club, from long range and short, and didn’t stumble again till the tough 18th, where a two-putt bogey left him with a 4-under-par 66 and a 7-under 203 total.
“Well, that’s how fickle this game is,” Steele was saying, in his own defense. “I picked up a win [Valero Texas] this year, and it blew my mind and put me in a comfort zone out here. Probably, it will be different for a major championship. But it’s still golf.”
Dufner, 34, who won twice on the Nationwide, the last time in 2006, shot 68 to tie him. He knows at least the breath of winning. He was a playoff runner-up in the Waste Management Phoenix Open this year. But then, he missed four straight cuts coming into the PGA. The difference this time? He hit 17 of the 18 greens in regulation.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m a nervous wreck out there,” Dufner said, “but this course is pretty stressful.”
Bradley, 25, was a candidate for a total crash after that opening double bogey.
“I really calmed down after that,” Bradley said. “It didn’t bother me much at all.” In fact, he birdied three of the next five holes, then longest putt an 18-footer at No. 6, and crowdetwo-putt d right back into the race. He was steady coming in, with a birdie at the 12th and all the rest pars for a 69 and a solo third, one shot behind. He credited Aunt Pat – LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley – for his demeanor and savvy.
“I just tried to copy everything that she did,” he said. “It’s had me a little more prepared, I think, for this stage.”
Once past the Nationwide reunion, golf fans were getting into familiar territory. Scott Verplank, 47, fighting injuries and illness much of his five-victory career, overcame a bogey at No. 3 and a double bogey at No. 4 for a 69 and solo fourth, two behind. And Steve Stricker, at No. 5 the highest ranked American on the world scale, and author of an opening 62, shot 69 for a solo fifth, three off the lead.
Patriotism reared its head when someone noticed that Americans occupied the first five places, giving the U.S. a chance to score a win in the fourth major – the others having gone to South Africa’s Charl Schwartzel (Masters), Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy (U.S. Open) and Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke (British Open).
Said Dufner: “I don’t think it really matters. There’s a lot of good players right now.”
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