The 93rd PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club ended as few would have ever imagined. What began as a Sunday initial leaderboard populated by less-prominent names turned out to supply as much late drama as any major championship in recent memory. And in the end, Hartford and greater New England golf fans rejoiced as Woodstock, Vermont and Hopkinton, Massachusetts product Keegan Bradley made his second PGA Tour victory his first major championship, all in his rookie season on Tour.
Bradley began the final round at six-under par for the tournament, a shot behind co-leaders Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner. Though Steele faded from contention early and quickly, Dufner played his first 14 holes nearly flawlessly, ascending to 11-under par for the. Bradley’s first 14 holes were excellent as well; he made it as far as nine-under.
Bradleys tee shot at the brutal 259-yard par three 15th hole came to rest deep in the thick bermuda rough just left of the green, a lie from which Bradley bladed the ball through the green into the water, leading to a triple-bogey six on the hole. And instantly, Dufner’s lead ballooned from two to five shots with four holes remaining. But after the long wait, Dufner’s tee shot found the water as well, leading to a bogey that compressed his lead back to four.
But only for a moment. In the group ahead, Bradley bounced back from his troubles at 15 by striping a drive, flushing a mid-iron, and sinking a seven-footer on the long par four 16th. Dufner hit another shaky approach shot into a greenside bunker and made bogey, creating a two-shot swing between the two.
Once again, on the par three 17th Dufner was made to watch more heroics from Bradley, who canned a slick 40-foot downhill birdie putt, setting off the single biggest crowd roar heard at any major championship this year. Dufner three-putted from a similar angle, and suddenly his lead had evaporated completely.
Both players would end up making pars on the 18th, pushing the PGA Championship to overtime or the second time in as many years. The three-hole aggregate playoff began on the 16th, where both players left themselves short birdie putts. Playing first, Dufner missed and Bradley made. Then, the man who had been in control much of the day was betrayed by the putter, three-putting for the second straight time on the par three, while Bradley made par. A birdie for Dufner on the 18th was not enough, as Bradley two-putted for par from 20 feet, pumping his fists in the air in victory.
Bradley, clad as every Sunday in the red and white of his alma mater, Saint John’s University in Staten Island, New York, snapped a streak of six majors won by international players, joining Phil Mickelson (2010 Masters) as the only American major champions of the decade so far.
Denmark’s Anders Hansen finished a shot out of the playoff, while Sweden’s Robert Karlsson finished in a tie for fourth place with Americans Scott Verplank and David Toms (who won the 2001 PGA, contested at Atlanta Athletic Club. University of Hartford alum Jerry Kelly shot an opening-round 65 to sit in second place alone, but faded over the weekend with rounds of 73, 74, and 69 to share 26th place at one-over par 281.
The PGA Tour heads this weekend to Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, North Carolina for the Wyndham Championship, the final regular-season event before the PGA Tour FedEx Cup Playoffs.