Every week on the PGA Tour, more than a hundred competitors start out at the beginning of the week and only one man wins. But this year, seemingly more than most years, in addition to one clear winner there is one clear loser. This week, Jim Furyk was the tragic victim, relinquishing the lead he had held for the entire tournament with a double bogey on the final hole to give Keegan Bradley the win in the 2012 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. Bradley carded a 6-under par 64 to finish at 13-under 267 for the tournament, one stroke ahead of Furyk and Steve Stricker.
Furyk played brilliantly through the first three rounds, hitting fairways and greens and raining every put the looked at. For Sunday’s final round, Furyk racked up three consecutive birdies on the first three holes on the rain-softened Firestone South Course. But he played the next 12 holes 1-over, opening the door to the streaking Bradley, Stricker and South African Louis Oosthuizen.
Bradley played brilliantly, carding six birdies and no bogeys. His intensity, fidgeting and death stare over his putts make him look like Henry Hill from GoodFellas out for a round, but that same intensity served him well as he inched his way closer to the lead. After clutch par saves on Nos. 16 and 17, Bradley went into the final hole just one shot behind Furyk.
For Furyk it was déjà vu all over again, as he snapped-hooked a drive to the left that evoked memories of his misshaped effort off the tee on the 16th hole at the U.S. Open. Furyk caught a break when the trees spit his ball back onto the fairway about 170 yards out. Bradley striped his drive, leaving himself 164 to the pin. With the tournament on the line, both Bradley and Furyk hit sub-par approaches. Furyk left himself an almost impossible downhill chip over a bunker to a green sloping away from him, while Bradley was plugged in the bunker that Furyk had to negotiate. Furyk took two shots to get himself to six feet from the hole. Meanwhile, Bradley splashed out to 10 feet and literally frightened the ball into the hole for his par. Amazingly, Furyk had to hit his putt to tie and earn a playoff. He motored it past the hole, giving Bradley his 3rd PGA Tour win and the first since his win at the 2011 PGA Championship.
Bradley is the kind of player that everyone likes to watch and no one wants to play against. His piercing gazes and countless gestures are almost Sergio-esque, but he looks like he’d wack anyone who’d try to heckle or rush him. There is no quit in Bradley, no relaxing. No matter where he is on the leaderboard he is sweating the details and grinding so hard he leaves a trail of brake dust on the fairway.
While being one of the Tour’s most popular players amongst his peers, Bradley reminds longtime Tour observers of the great competitors of previous generations, guys like Hale Irwin and Raymond Floyd who had to have the right combination of talent and nasty to notch victories while competing against the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, et al. The nephew of LPGA great Pat Bradley is golf royalty who has learned from the best what it takes to be good, and what it takes to be great. As he now heads for Kiawah to defend the Wannamaker Trophy, Bradley is seeking to break the string of 17 different winners in the last 17 majors. There are probably a lot of people who would pick somebody else to win, but there aren’t a lot who would tell him to his face.
Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.