In a PGA Championship filled with unfamiliar names at the top of the leaderboard, Keegan Bradley delivered an unforgettable finish.
Bradley was five shots behind with only three holes to play Sunday after his chip shot raced across the 15th green and into the water, leading to a triple bogey. That’s when he reminded himself that no lead was safe on the final four holes at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘Don’t let that hole define this whole tournament,’” Bradley said.
Instead, it led to one of the most stunning turnarounds in a major. Bradley made back-to-back birdies, including a 35-footer that rattled into the cup on the 17th.
Then came a monumental meltdown by Jason Dufner. Unflappable all afternoon, he hit his tee shot into the water on the 15th for the first of three straight bogeys that led to a three-hole playoff.
Bradley birdied the 16th hole in the playoff - his first outright lead of the day - and went on to win by one shot. After his victory, Bradley took a picture of the oversized Wanamaker Trophy with his mobile phone and posted it on Twitter with three hash tags “pgachampion. triplebogies. happiness.”
“It feels unbelievable,” he said. “It seems like a dream and I’m afraid I’m going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it’s not going to be real.” The final major of the year was hard to believe in so many ways.
It was Bradley, a 25-year-old PGA Tour rookie ranked No. 108 in the world, who ended America’s longest drought at major championships, which had reached six. Phil Mickelson had been the last American to win a major at the 2010 Masters.
He also became only the third player in at least 100 years to win a major on his first try.
All this after Tiger Woods missed the cut and finished out of the top 100 for the first time in a major, and U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy - the favorite at the PGA - hit a tree root in the opening round and played the rest of the week with his right wrist heavily taped. He finished 19 shot back, in a share of 64th.
Then came the finish: A rousing rally for Bradley, a sad collapse for Dufner. It brought back memories of Ed Sneed making bogey on the last three holes of the 1979 Masters, and even Arnold Palmer losing a seven-shot lead with nine holes left in the 1966 U.S. Open.
Dufner played that four-hole finish in 3 under for the week - never once making a bogey - until the final round. Now winless in 148 starts, Dufner closed with a 69.
“Everybody has struggled on them,” he said of the final four holes. “Unfortunately, I had the lead and I struggled on them. ... That was the deciding factor, and Keegan made a couple birdies there, and I made a couple bogeys.” Bradley, best known until now as the nephew of LPGA great Pat Bradley, moved to No. 29 in the world.