A trend that has dominated the 2013 PGA Tour season appears ready to extend into this week’s HP Byron Nelson Championship: expect the unexpected.
While certainly somewhat surprising, Keegan Bradley’s record-setting 60 Thursday at TPC Four Seasons was not as shocking as D.A. Points winning the Shell Houston Open after missing seven of his previous nine cuts. Likewise, Bradley’s first-round effort does not stack up with Derek Ernst claiming the Wells Fargo Championship from outside the top 1,200 in the world ranking. Consider, though, the polar extremes that his 2013 campaign has already reached.
Currently 14th in the world, Bradley spent the month of March inside the top 10 – literally. The former PGA champion notched four straight top-10 finishes, beginning with a tie for fourth at the Honda Classic and concluding with a tie for 10th in Houston. A year after leading the PGA Tour in the all-around ranking, Bradley appeared to have his game rounding into form at just the right time, and as a result was discussed among the favorites heading into the Masters.
From there, though, his season took an unexpected detour. Rather than contend at Augusta National, Bradley ballooned to a tie for 54th, highlighted by a third-round 82 that dropped him to last among the players that survived the 36-hole cut. He followed that effort by missing the cut in each of his last two starts, struggling to a 5-over 77 in his most recent competitive round at The Players Championship.
“I played really well at Sawgrass,” he explained after his opening round in Dallas, one in which he took 17 fewer shots than his last round six days prior. “It was just kind of a weird week.”
As a result, Bradley was not necessarily topping the list of players expected to contend this week at TPC Four Seasons, despite his win there two years earlier. After just one round, though, he finds himself in possession of both a three-shot lead and the new course record.
“I was able to match up unbelievable ball-striking with great putting,” he noted of an opening round where he needed just 24 putts despite reaching 15 of 18 greens in regulation. “The hole looked huge. Even the putts I missed almost went in.”
It’s an example of just how quickly things can change on the PGA Tour, especially this year. Players like Points and Michael Thompson, who won at PGA National despite three missed cuts in his four prior starts, have demonstrated that past performance this year is hardly a prerequisite for – or precursor of – future success. While Bradley has widely been considered a top-tier player all season, it fits with the pattern of the 2013 season that the best round of his PGA Tour career comes directly after his worst three-event stretch in more than two years.
Ironically, one of the players with whom Bradley is closest on Tour is his former Ryder Cup partner, Phil Mickelson – who, like Bradley, has experienced a rather mercurial season, one that also peaked with an opening-round 60. Mickelson’s low score came at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, an event the Hall of Famer would go on to win by four shots, and he’s added a pair of top-three finishes since. He’s also missed the cut at Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass, however, while joining Bradley in a disappointing tie for 54th at the season’s first major.
Whether Bradley can follow in Mickelson’s footsteps this week, turning an opening 60 into a victory Sunday afternoon, remains to be seen. Regardless of the outcome at TPC Four Seasons, though, his opening round Thursday – one in which he carded 10 birdies and an eagle after just a single birdie in his prior competitive round – serves as yet another example of just how unpredictable the 2013 season has become.