Keegan Bradley made his major tournament debut a historic one, beating Jason Dufner in a playoff at the PGA Championship to end the longest winless streak for American golfers in majors at six.
Bradley, a U.S. PGA Tour rookie and nephew of Hall of Fame women’s golfer Pat Bradley, won the three-hole playoff at Atlanta Athletic Club yesterday by one shot to become the first player since Francis Ouimet in 1913 to win in his major-tournament debut in the U.S.
“It’s unbelievable considering that 2 1/2 years ago I was on the Hooters Tour grinding for survival to keep playing,” Bradley said. “It’s an amazing feeling. Golf can be difficult and to know that you’ve got some security for a good chunk of time is very nice.”
Bradley, 25, received $1.45 million, automatic status on the PGA Tour through 2016 and exemptions to the other three majors for the next five years. He is the first PGA Tour rookie to win two events since Todd Hamilton, who captured the Honda Classic and British Open in 2004. Bradley won the Byron Nelson Classic in May.
Bradley trailed Dufner by five shots with four holes to play after taking a triple bogey at the par-3 15th hole. Bradley then had birdies on the 16th and 17th holes at the course in Johns Creek, Georgia, to get to 8-under par. In the group behind, Dufner blew his lead with bogeys on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 before a par on No. 18 to force the playoff.
Bradley made a four-foot birdie putt to start the playoff, while Dufner missed a birdie attempt of about five feet. Dufner then had a three-putt bogey at the par-3 17th, where Bradley made par to open a two-shot advantage.
At the par-4 18th hole, Bradley clinched the victory with a 6-iron approach over water that set up a two-putt par. Dufner, 34, birdied the 18th hole, yet fell to 0-2 in playoffs and remains winless on the PGA Tour.
“I’m not going to let this define my career,” Dufner told reporters. “I have a lot more time to play golf and hopefully I’ll have more time to win majors and use what happened today as a positive.”
Bradley is the seventh straight first-time winner of one of golf’s major titles, the longest streak in history.
The last player to win in his first trip to the PGA Championship, the year’s final major, was Shaun Micheel in 2003. Ben Curtis was the last player to win a major championship in his first start, at the 2003 British Open.
Ouimet was an amateur playing his first major when he beat Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, 98 years ago.
Bradley’s success is the first for an American in golf’s four annual Grand Slam events since Phil Mickelson won the Masters Tournament for a third time in April 2010.
The streak of non-U.S. winners began with a victory for Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell at the U.S. Open in June 2010. Americans occupied the top five spots on the PGA Championship leaderboard entering yesterday’s final round.
“I would love to be up in a category with the best players and mentioned with Phil Mickelson, one of my idols,” Bradley said. “I hope I don’t disappear. I don’t plan to.”
Bradley jumps to 29th from 108th in golf’s Official World Ranking. He said watching his aunt compete helped prepare him for professional golf. Pat Bradley is a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame who won six women’s majors, including three in 1986, the year Keegan was born.
“I made my history in the game and now it’s time for Keegan,” Pat Bradley said in an interview with the Golf Channel. “He’s off to a wonderful start and he deserves his own recognition.”
Woods Misses Weekend
Bradley’s win comes after a weekend that was noteworthy for a group of unheralded players near the top of the leaderboard and the absence of Tiger Woods for the first time in the 14 years he’s played in the tournament.
Woods, a four-time PGA Championship winner and 14-time major champion, finished 10-over par for two rounds and missed the cut line by six strokes. It was the third time Woods failed to qualify for the weekend in a major as a professional, along with the 2009 British Open and 2006 U.S. Open.
Steve Stricker started the tournament with a 7-under-par 63 in Round 1, matching the lowest score in a major championship. While he stumbled in the second round, Bradley shot a 64 and Dufner a 65 to climb atop the leaderboard.
The third round saw the emergence of another unheralded American rookie, as Brendan Steele shot 66 to tie Dufner for the 54-hole lead at 7-under. Bradley was a shot further back and had a final-round 68 to make the playoff.
Anders Hansen of Denmark finished third at 7-under, while 2001 PGA Championship winner David Toms was 5-under along with fellow American Scott Verplank and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson. Adam Scott of Australia finished 4-under par.
England’s Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, the top two players in the world ranking, ended the tournament at 3-under par and tied for eighth place. Mickelson, a four-time major champion, tied for 19th at even par.
Mike Small, the lone PGA club professional to make the cut, was 12-over par for the tournament, ahead of former PGA Championship winners Davis Love III and Micheel. Rory McIlroy, the U.S. Open champion and pre-tournament favorite, finished 11-over after straining a tendon in his wrist during the opening round.
The PGA Tour’s regular season wraps up with the Wyndham Championship, which begins Aug. 18 in Greensboro, North Carolina. The top 125 players on the world’s richest golf circuit then advance to the Barclays, the first of four playoff events for the FedEx Cup.
“The top players are not dominating like they were, which I think is great for the Tour,” Bradley said. “It gives an opportunity for a player like me to win. I think it’s only getting deeper.”