Keegan Bradley hoping for special week at BMW to keep season going

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Keegan Bradley hoping for special week at BMW to keep season going

PGA Tour

Keegan Bradley hoping for special week at BMW to keep season going

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – On Wednesday night, Keegan Bradley’s phone buzzed with a text message. It was from Phil Mickelson.

“Let’s have a special week,” Mickelson told his pal and former Ryder Cup teammate. “We’re close. We’re playing well. Let’s put it together this week.”

Mickelson held up his end of the bargain on Thursday, posting a 5-under 66 to open his BMW Championship. Bradley? Well, he was even better, shooting 65 to sit just three shots off of Marc Leishman’s first-round lead at Conway Farms.

“Really proud of the way I played today,” said Bradley, who birdied his first three holes, finishing with seven total, and struck just 26 putts.

“Just excited to be playing every day, so I want to keep going.”

That will be no easy task as Bradley enters the week 48th in FedEx Cup points. The top 30 qualify for next week’s Tour Championship, and Bradley needs to finish fifth or better at Conway Farms to keep his season alive.

Bradley doesn’t want to miss out on the Tour Championship again, which is why he’s played so much, missing just five weeks since The Players. He knows all about the bonuses that come with making it to East Lake, including major invites and Tour exemptions.

“Get in the Tour Championship and your (next) year is set,” Bradley said.

That’s what Bradley is trying to get back to. Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship as a rookie, vaulted to No. 10 in the world and made two U.S. Ryder Cup teams, in 2012 and ’14. But swing changes and a longer-than-expected adjustment to the anchoring ban have halted Bradley’s career progression.

Bradley admitted to taking his quick success on the PGA Tour for granted. He had always played with a chip on his shoulder, from his junior days in New England to his college career at St. John’s to his Web.com Tour days. And he lost that a little bit.

Now, though, Bradley is as motivated as ever.

“Everyone thinks I stink now,” Bradley said. “You should read my Twitter comments. I always have a lot to prove. I really look forward to coming out every day and proving people wrong. … I’ve got a lot to prove to a lot of people.”

Who could forget the team that Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson made at the 2012 Ryder Cup?

Bradley has failed to make it to East Lake in three straight seasons. And following a five-year stretch where he didn’t miss a major, Bradley missed two this season, the Masters and British Open. Then there was, with mixed emotions, seeing the U.S. team take back the Ryder Cup last year without him.

“It’s no fun watching majors at home, no fun watching Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups at home,” Bradley said. “You start feeling bad for yourself.”

With his confidence waning, Bradley started to seek advice from players who have experienced rough stretches in their careers and gotten it back, including Ernie Els and Mickelson.

“We all go through highs and lows in this game,” Mickelson said. “He and I have been on a stretch where we are not playing at our best and we are close to getting it back. I can see in it his game, I can feel in it my game and I really enjoy playing in team events with him.

“I really want to be on the Ryder Cup next year. I want him to be on the Ryder Cup next year. … His upside, his potential as a player is as high as just about anybody.”

Bradley just needs to figure out the flatstick. Bradley finished 47th on Tour in strokes gained-putting in 2014. Last year, he was 183rd, ahead of only two qualified players. This season he’s been better, but still ranks No. 143.

But Bradley insists he’s gaining confidence on the greens. On Thursday, he pointed to a tricky, breaking 7-footer for par that he made at Conway Farms’ par-4 16th hole.

If he can start seeing those go in more consistently? “That just changes everything,” Bradley said.

Sort of like a win would this week at the BMW.

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