This had to be the time. Coming off of two consecutive missed cuts and a disappointing weekend at The Masters, Keegan Bradley had his swagger back. His game was in tune. He even went out on Thursday and set a new course record at TPC Four Seasons just outside Dallas. All he had to do was hold on, and his first win of 2013 was all but in the bag.
So how did it all go wrong on Sunday?
If his opening round was charmed, Sunday was about as far from it as one can get. Bradley didn’t even play particularly poorly on Sunday, with winds gusting over 40 miles per hour throughout the day and the Texas heat rising into the lower 90s.
However, as much as Bradley persevered through the elements, he was only able to card one birdie on the day — the putt at number 15 that actually moved him back into a tie with playing partner and eventual winner Sang-Moon Bae. The front nine, where Bradley had scored at will on Thursday, gave him nothing on the tournament’s closing day, where he battled to go out at 1-over 36.
To his credit, Bradley handled the defeat with tremendous grace. Bae came out of the gates completely on fire, making birdie on four of the first seven holes of the round with Bradley unable to do anything but watch. Bae even had Bradley down by four strokes at one point before he made double bogey on nine, then followed it up with bogeys on 10 and 15 to allow Bradley to get back in the game.
“I hung in there. I chipped away,” Bradley said. “I was down four early on. I chipped away and got it back to even with four to play, which is all that I could have asked for. When I made that putt on 15, I was pretty confident that I was going to win this tournament.” (via Mike McAllister, PGATour.com)
As the old golf cliche goes, however, the pros “drive for show, and putt for dough.” Bradley’s normally smooth putting stroke let him down late as he missed a short birdie putt on number 16, then made bogey on 17 to seal the deal. Bradley ranks a better-than-average 41st on Tour in strokes gained putting and in almost any other week, his 11-under finish probably would have been good enough for victory.
But this week, while Bradley somewhat stalled through the weekend, Bae’s relentless grind won out in the end.
Still, the second place finish is Bradley’s best this season and with a golfer’s short memory, should be a good recovery point once he gets over the agony of defeat. “Coming in second is great, which I’ll love tomorrow,” Bradley said, allowing himself a moment of mourning over what could have been. “Right now, it’s a little disappointing.”
Bradley has proven himself to be a worthy competitor in his young career; while it’s easy to get caught up in the moment, he’ll be able to use the week off to collect himself before coming back stronger at The Memorial. When you’re a champion like Bradley, you simply don’t accept anything less.