AKRON, Ohio — While the four back-nine birdies helped, it was a dramatic par save on No. 18 that ended up giving Keegan Bradley an unexpected PGA Tour title on Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
Bradley fired a 6-under 64 – the round of the day – while Jim Furyk double-bogeyed the 72nd hole to hand the reigning PGA Championship winner a one-shot victory at Firestone CC.
Here are 5 Things to take away from the dramatic turn of events in Ohio:
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1. DID THAT JUST HAPPEN?: A year after Keegan Bradley burst onto the scene with his unlikely victory at the PGA Championship in Atlanta – he won in his first major start – the St. John’s product made a Sunday charge that should give him momentum as he prepares to defend that title this week at Kiawah Island.
After matching birdies on No. 16 with Furyk, Bradley only needed a pair of pars on the final two holes to secure the title – but the latter one was dramatic.
After finding the fairway off the tee, Bradley quickly played his second and buried it in a greenside bunker. He studied the green before taking his third shot, hitting it will past the hole and letting the slope bring it back to about 15 feet. Facing a left-to-right putt, Bradley buried it and let out a huge yell and fist pump.
But he still needed help from Furyk, who obliged by missing a 7-footer for bogey to force a playoff.
“My hope standing on the 18th tee was to make birdie and maybe force a playoff. Just from being out here, you just never know what’s going to happen, especially with that pin on 18. That’s a really difficult pin,” said Bradley.
“To be honest with you, my second shot in was probably about the purest shot I hit all day, and it just motored on me. I hit 9‑iron from 165. I might have been a little jacked up, but it all worked out.
Bradley had sputtered coming to Firestone, with finishes of T-34 at the Open Championship, T-46 at Greenbrier, T-29 at the Travelers Championship, T-68 at the U.S. Open and missing the cut at the Memorial.
In 20 starts, this was only Bradley’s fourth top-10 finish, including a playoff loss for the Northern Trust Open title.
Bradley did play well at Bridgestone in 2011, finishing T-15 despite a final-round, 4-over 74 that caused him to slip down the leaderboard.
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2. WIRE-TO-WIRE, ALMOST: Jim Furyk looked as though he was going to run away with the Bridgestone title by opening with three consecutive birdies on Sunday. And then a birdie at No. 16 looked like he had put the tournament away.
But after hitting a tree left off the tee at No. 18 – the ball bounded back into the fairway – and then sending his approach into thick, greenside rough, two chips to the green and then a two-putt, Furyk would post double-bogey and keep him winless since the 2010 TOUR Championship.
Furyk fired a 1-under 69 to finish at 12 under overall. Furyk was not surprising dejected after his late collapse.
“I think they realize when something happens in your life that you’re working so hard, you’re trying too hard, you’re pushing too hard, you’ve worked so hard for, I have no one to blame but myself, but when things go wrong, it’s an empty feeling,” said Furyk. “I’m disappointed. I walked over, my boy is crying right after the round, and I guess it reminds you as an adult, as a parent that you have to act the proper way.”
This is Furyk’s third close call of the 2012 season, holding the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open, only to relinquish it late to Webb Simpson, not to mention his playoff loss at the Transitions Championship in March.
“I don’t think Jim collapsed at all. I went out and played a very good round. I shot 31 on the back side,” said Bradley. “And Jim played great. He hit a good shot in on 18, very similar to my shot, where the wind was swirling a little bit, and we felt like it was in, coming into us, and it actually wasn’t, and it just went a little further. It was almost an identical shot that I hit. He didn’t hit that bad a shot.”
The runner-up finish marked Furyk’s fifth top-10 finish in 18 events. He had only four in all of 2011, a year after winning three times.
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3. THE SHORT OF IT: Tiger Woods was first in the field in ball-striking and hit 75 percent of his greens in regulation (T-2 in the field), giving himself plenty of scoring opportunities at Firestone over the four rounds.
But, despite a nice 4-under 66 to finish the tournament at T-9, Woods will need to fix his work on and around the greens if he hopes to break his winless drought in major championships.
Tiger finished Bridgestone on a bogey-free streak of 23 holes, including five birdies. But those numbers might be a bit deceptive, as Woods’ grimace showed when he missed an 18-footer for birdie on the 72nd hole Sunday. He closed the final round with nine consecutive pars, of which seven of the putts burned the edge. He had 29 putts despite hitting 15 greens on Sunday.
Tiger had a pedestrian 12 birdies this week, erased by nine bogeys – he had nothing worse than bogey this week. His 52 pars show a conservative game plan that is not very Woods-like. Coming off an Open Championship performance that showcased iron after iron off the tee, Woods did take more driver in Akron, but still struggled mightily with his short irons, rarely getting those shots inside 10 feet.
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4. STILL RECOVERING? Adam Scott was the defending champion at Bridgestone, winning one of his eight PGA Tour titles at Firestone with a dominating, 17-under performance in 2011.
2012 was a different case. In his first tournament since losing a four-shot lead with four holes to play at the Open Championship, Scott finished T-45 in the field of 75 finishers. Scott went 71-70-71-73, including going 4 over on his first nine holes on Sunday. Scott averaged a dismal 29.8 putts per round, including two double-bogeys. The only statistical category that he was in the top 10 of was driving distance (T-8, 332.9 yards).
Scott will tee it up at Kiawah this week alongside Sergio Garcia and Hunter Mahan – with all three players looking for their first major title.
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5. SHORT SHOTS: Phil Mickelson’s struggles continue, carding only one round at par or better (a 69 on Friday), capping off his week with a 1-over 71 to finish at 4 over and T-43 . . . Rickie Fowler recovered from his 10-over 80 on Friday with weekend rounds of 69-69, but still finished T-60 . . . Fowler wasn’t alone in the big numbers, as Lee Westwood fired an 81 on Saturday, while Greenbrier winner Ted Potter, Jr. shot 80 on Sunday . . . Ben Crane withdrew after the round on Friday due to back spasms . . . Last week’s PGA Tour winner, Scott Piercy, continues his solid play with another top-20 finish, finishing at 2 under and T-19 overall.