No player has repeated as the winner of golf’s final major of the season, the PGA Championship, since Tiger Woods won his third and fourth Wannamaker Trophies in 2006 and ’07. Young American Keegan Bradley, a shocking winner in 2011, isn’t among the favorites to win this week on WagerWeb.com. The tournament tees off Thursday morning at the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Resort in South Carolina.
Last year in Atlanta, Bradley was five shots behind Jason Dufner with only three holes to play after his chip shot raced across the 15th green and into the water, leading to a triple bogey. But then Bradley had one of the most stunning turnarounds in a major. He made back-to-back birdies, including a 35-footer with a belly putter that rattled into the cup on the 17th. Then came a monumental meltdown by Dufner. Unflappable all afternoon, he hit his tee shot in 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.
The 2011 PGA Championship was Bradley’s first start in a major as he joined Ben Curtis and Francis Ouimet as the only players in history to win a major championship in their first career major start. The victory, along with a win at the HP Byron Nelson Championship earlier in the season, propelled Bradley to 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors.
And Bradley enters this week on a high, having won last week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He shot 31 on the back nine Sunday and came up with one clutch putt after another. None was bigger than the final stroke of his 6-under 64. After blasting out of a plugged lie in the bunker, he poured in a 15-foot putt for par that turned out to be the winner. Jim Furyk was poised to finish off a wire-to-wire win at the Bridgestone Invitational until he made double-bogey from the middle of the 18th fairway to hand the tournament to Bradley.
Bradley also arrives at Kiawah Island with the invaluable experience gained by getting three more major starts under his belt. A tie for 27th at the Masters, a tie for 68th at the U.S. Open and a tie for 34th at the Open Championship may not have been the precise results Bradley had hoped for, but nonetheless, he’s made the cut in each of his four cracks at major debuts.