BMW is Bradley's big chance to get back on track

By Will GraySeptember 14, 2017, 10:45 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The decline finally felt real for Keegan Bradley in April.

After years as a mainstay near the top of the world rankings, Bradley’s game had been slowly slipping away for months as he made adjustments both on and off the course. But it wasn’t until his peers started their annual pilgrimage down Magnolia Lane without him this past spring that the former PGA champ took stock of just how far he had fallen.

“That was awful,” said Bradley, whose five-year Masters exemption for winning the 2011 PGA expired in 2016. “I normally would go early and practice and play a little bit. That was always super fun for me, and now I wasn’t allowed. I couldn’t go, so that was tough.”

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Bradley was christened as the next can’t-miss prospect when he burst out of obscurity during a steamy week at Atlanta Athletic Club, hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy in his first-ever major start. It was the second win of his rookie year, and another trophy followed the next summer at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

But since then, the hardware has been hard to come by. Bradley is in the midst of a winless drought that now stretches more than five years, one he hopes to end this week at the BMW Championship where his 6-under 65 left him in a tie for second place, three shots behind leader Marc Leishman.

The 25-year-old who seemingly couldn’t believe his fortune after that playoff over Jason Dufner is long gone. In his place stands a 31-year-old man with a baby on the way, a seasoned veteran who now has to fight off an incoming group of younger talent and who has experienced both the ups and the downs that pro golf has to offer.

“It stinks. 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.”

The crux of Bradley’s regression can be traced back to the anchoring ban that took effect last year. His win with an anchored belly putter at the 2011 PGA was one of the results that led the USGA to take action, and Bradley admittedly struggled to find a solution.

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After finishing 47th on Tour in strokes gained putting in 2014, he fell to 128th the next season and bottomed out at No. 183 on the greens in 2016.

“It was tougher than I thought,” Bradley said. “But I was going through stuff with my game as well where I was working on that, so it was kind of like I couldn’t focus on one thing long enough.”

Bradley failed to advance to the second playoff event in his native New England last year, but he opened the fall portion of this season with four straight top-25 finishes. That proved to be a harbinger of things to come, as a more confident and consistent Bradley now sits on the cusp of advancing to the Tour Championship for the first time since 2013.

While he deserves much of the credit for his own reclamation, he put a hefty amount at the feet of veterans who offered advice during his darkest moments. Bradley has gotten tips from Ernie Els on what it takes to rebound from poor stretches, and he still has a pipeline for advice from friend and former Ryder Cup teammate Phil Mickelson, who sent Bradley a note of encouragement prior to the opening round at Conway Farms Golf Club.

“He and I have been on a stretch where we are not playing at our best, and we are close to getting it back,” Mickelson said. “I just sent him a little text, ‘Hey, let’s have a special week. We’re close, we’re playing well, let’s put it together this week.’ Because his upside, his potential as a player is as high as just about anybody.”

A spot at East Lake remains the goal for all 70 players in this week’s field but it holds extra gravity for Bradley, who missed two of the four majors this year and entered the week ranked No. 95 in the world. A schedule constructed with fully-exempt status is nice, but it doesn’t compare to one replete with the spoils of making the season finale: spots in each of the first three majors as well as the WGC-Mexico Championship.

For Bradley, this week serves as a tantalizing opportunity to ensure his absence from Augusta National is short-lived.

“Get into the Tour Championship and your year is set,” he said. “You’re basically top 50 in the world at that point. So it’s always in the back (of the mind), somewhere.”

The game is still not as easy as it felt when he was taking the Tour by storm as a rookie, and the baby-faced grin is a bit more weathered these days. But after spending the last 11 months steadily climbing back onto leaderboards, Bradley has a chance this week to put an emphatic stamp on his return to form.

Suddenly, the lows of April seem far away.

“It was a lot more fun back then, I can tell you that. It’s a lot more fun winning, playing in majors and playing in Ryder Cups,” Bradley said. “But things are different for me now. I have a lot to look forward to, and a lot to work for. I’ve got a lot more years out here, so I look forward to that.”

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.

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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”