Weird science

By John HawkinsAugust 16, 2011, 12:52 pm

His rookie season on the PGA Tour has turned into a huge success, but with all the false-start predictions that young players will become great players, PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley warrants further examination. Is he capable of superstardom – as so many have forecast for Rory McIlroy – or is he another Ben Curtis – the last guy to win a major in his first start?

There is no exact science when it comes to telling the fortunes of Tour pros – there really isn’t much science at all. Just educated guesswork and hunches, and from there, one can see how Bradley – who turned 25 in June – has what it takes to be one of the game’s top players. He might have gotten some help on his way to the trophy ceremony at Atlanta Athletic Club, but we’re also talking about a kid who triple bogeyed the 15th hole to trail by four with three to play, birdied the next two, then birdied the first playoff hole, which proved to be the difference.

On two laps around one of the toughest finishing stretches anywhere, Bradley went 3 under with the game on the line. Talent is one thing, but having the mental strength to excel under intense competitive duress is what defines greatness. His life changed forever last Sunday – more attention, much higher expectations in a world that is constantly in a rush to identify the latest greatest. Is he capable? Here’s the data. You be the judge.

THE RESULTS: Bradley needed just one year on the Nationwide Tour (2010) to make the big leagues after winning nine college tournaments at St. John’s. He didn¹t exactly set the Nationwide on fire, missing five consecutive cuts at one point in the spring. He didn’t notch his first top 10 until July, then missed three cuts in his next four starts. In mid-September, however, he began a stretch of four straight top-five finishes that would vault him to 14th on the final money list. None of them were victories, but Bradley had graduated with a Tour card.

Although a brief career in the minors hardly guarantees a guy stardom, most top-tier players get to the highest level sooner rather than later.

A tie for seventh at the Bob Hope (his second start) and T-15 at Pebble Beach sent Bradley off in the right direction this season. He struggled through the Florida Swing, then ended a two-month stretch of mediocre play with a T-9 at the Valero Texas Open. Five weeks later, Bradley beat Ryan Palmer in a playoff in Dallas, notable not only because it was his first career victory, but the lowest winning total in relation to par (3 under) at any tournament all year.

Both of the kid’s victories have come on very difficult courses. Generally speaking, young players tend to make hay on easier setups – places they can overpower without worrying about driving it in the rough. Bradley also performed well on always-tough Firestone before fading on Sunday, so if the trend continues, he should continue to do well at the majors. He may not be one of those guys who seems to contend every week, but at the big gatherings, he’ll bring his best game.

THE STATISTICS: Bradley’s greatest strength is a great strength to have.

He drives the ball exceptionally long, ranking 16th at 301.3 yards, and as big hitters go, he is very straight – 93rd on the Tour at just under 62 percent of his fairways hit. Making putts is nice, but the power/accuracy combination travels just about anywhere and gives Bradley a chance when his putter heats up.

The reason shorter hitters don’t win very often is pretty simple: every week, there are a half-dozen bombers making their 15-footers, which allows them to take advantage of their length. Bradley is definitely one of those guys, which isn’t to say he’s a slouch on the greens. He falls in the middle of the pack in every significant putting stat, which is very good for a first-year player, most of whom have never seen the venues they’re playing.

There are weaknesses. Bradley ranks 170th on the Tour in getting up and down from bunkers. He doesn’t hit nearly enough greens with short irons, which is a problem when you drive it 300-plus. His GIR numbers get better on longer approaches, but overall, he’ll find himself contending a lot more often when he starts sticking wedges inside 15 feet. Too many scoring chances are turning into blue-collar pars or worse.

THE LINEAGE: Keegan’s aunt, Pat Bradley, is a member of the LPGA Hall of Fame and six-time major champion who won 31 tournaments overall from 1976-91. Perhaps bloodlines don’t mean anything in pro golf, but if physical ability is genetic, why not mental toughness? The lanky kid from Vermont has already locked up Rookie of the Year honors – and finds himself a serious contender for Player of the Year. The sky’s the limit here, but then, haven’t we said that a hundred times before?

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm