TPC Boston shows off differing views

Keegan Bradley tees off on the 18th hole during the second round of the Deutsche Bank Championship at TPC Boston.

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NORTON, Mass. – If it is possible to be alone with your thoughts when you’re surrounded by tens of thousands of people, Keegan Bradley found the perfect place: the fourth green at TPC Boston.

It is tucked in a corner of the course that attracts the least amount of traffic and is hidden behind a wall of trees. That is where Bradley – his heart and soul poured into a tournament that passes as a true hometown affair – pretty much hit the low point of his second round in the Deutsche Bank Championship on Saturday morning.

His drive having gone wide right at a 298-yard hole that is easily drivable for someone of Bradley’s talents, the diehard New Englander was lodged in thick rough. He advanced his ball just 15 yards, pitched to 29 feet – then missed the putt. Not only was a generous birdie opportunity squandered, but with his careless and inexplicable bogey, Bradley was 4 over with just five holes to play on a day when 1 over figured to be the cut.

Or would it be 2 over? Bradley knew only how much this bogey pained him.

So, even as Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan went about their duties on the green, Bradley turned his back, stood and stared back down the fairway, his head hung and his spirits sunk. Few players wear their disappointment on their face as Bradley. Not only had he missed the cut in last week’s opening FedEx Cup playoff tournament, but he came up short in the Deutsche Bank Championship, in front of family, friends and New Englanders who claim him as one of their own.

From more than 100 yards away, you could feel Bradley’s anguish as he solemnly stood on that fourth green and glared in disbelief. Imagine, a bogey on a hole that had yielded two eagles and 43 birdies the day before. Actually, Bradley couldn’t imagine, which is why he stood frozen.

It is an image that shined through on a morning that afforded so many different views of this game that never ceases to reward us. Especially flavorful, the rainbow of sights came flowing forth while watching three groups in a row during the morning wave: Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els joined by Rickie Fowler, right in front of Bradley-Kuchar-Mahan and then came Rory McIlroy, Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.

Ah, yes. Hall of Famers current and future, next month’s Ryder Cuppers, the world’s most lovable player (that would be McIlroy and certainly girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki, who followed around, would agree), and all but Kuchar having ventured into the PGA Tour’s winner’s circle this year. You’d be hard-pressed to say the pairings-makers didn’t throw out a lineup of attractions right in a row for those who enjoy great golf with their Cheerios.

Just don’t try to make sense out of the varying levels of play, because it’s golf. There is no explanation for why the first group went a combined 4 under, the third group was 11 under, yet the middle guys were a stunning 6 over.

Yes, it was a rough go for Bradley, Mahan, and Kuchar, particularly out of the gates. Starting from the 10th hole, they were just five holes into the morning when there was already a triple (Kuchar), a double (Bradley), and back-to-back bogeys (Mahan).

Go figure, because behind them, McIlroy was being more than his adorable self; he was taking aim everywhere.

“I got off to a nice start and sort of just kept the momentum going,” McIlroy said after he shrugged off bogeys at the par-5 second and par-3 third to shoot 6-under 65 and get halfway home in 12-under 130, the clubhouse leader by two over Seung-Yul Noh (71 – 132).

Though he had a few hiccups – he missed a 5-footer for birdie at 17 and didn’t birdie the par-5 seventh – McIlroy looked very much in control, which is why you could have confused him with Dufner. Seemingly on a perpetual walk in the park, all Dufner did was hit 12 fairways, 16 greens, and run his bogey-free streak to 23 holes.

No worries, not even for the right leg that seemed to cause him concern, what with him stretching it out from time to time.

“I’ll get some therapy and get on with it tomorrow,” Dufner said.

At the tail-end of this three-group wave, Dufner arrived to sign his scorecard even as the trio ahead of him – Bradley, Kuchar, Mahan – gathered their possessions from their golf bags and tried to explain a day that had not gone particularly well. Bradley and Kuchar, both 2 over, knew they were going to settle in for a long cut watch, while Mahan, at 2 under, was safely into the weekend, though he had started the day T-27 and had lost ground. Not good with Ryder Cup pressure hanging.

Dufner? He talked of a “low-stress” day and nodded in respect to McIlroy, his playing competitor. They had combined to shoot 11 under, so no complaints, even on another day of criticism that for a second-straight week, the PGA Tour had set up a golf course that played into the hands of the bombers.

Dufner didn’t agree. “I’m not so sure it necessarily suits the bomber,” he said. “I think it’s a great course. There’s a lot of variety, a good mix.”

The PGA Tour being what it is – and that is, a members’ organization, where opinions vary greatly – others would say differently. Like Tim Clark and Ben Curtis, who finished at the 18th hole, just before those marquee groups concluded at the ninth. Curiously, Clark owns the scoring mark for the opening 36 holes in this 10-year-old tournament (66-62 – 128 in 2008), yet he felt overmatched by a course set-up that left him at 71-74, 3-over 145. So, too, Curtis (79-74).

Sympathetic to both sides of the debate, Chris Kirk finished off a round of 70 that pushed him to 9 under, then tried to explain TPC Boston as it is being staged.

“You don’t have to be a super-long hitter to play well here,” he said, though he acknowledged there’s a lot of room off the tee so you aren’t penalized if you do stray off line. So, “it becomes a second-shot golf course and the longer you hit it, the easier your second shot is going to be.”

Of course, Kirk was speaking of second shots into the par 4s, but it was McIlroy’s second into the par-5 18th that served as perhaps the highlight of this delightful morning of golf. Carving a 4-iron into the wind, McIlroy felt he could be aggressive, which happens to play to his strength.

He pulled it off beautifully, his shot to 12 feet converted for an eagle, yet another reason for him to offer up a smile on a day that had many of them – just not from the group ahead. That is where Bradley grinded away, not even smiling when he finished birdie-birdie, for his day was not over – there was a long, anxious wait ahead.

Yet perhaps eight hours after he had made his second double-bogey in six holes to go to 5 over for the tournament, and maybe five hours since he had knocked down birdie putts of 31 feet at the eighth and 8 feet at the ninth to sign for a 2-over 145 total, Bradley was assured of being into the weekend play.

Finally, he could smile.

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