AKRON, Ohio – Keegan Bradley never looked like a winner over four days and 71 holes at Firestone until he poured in a 15-foot par putt on the final hole Sunday.
Given the way golf has gone this year, no one should have been surprised.
Two weeks after Jim Furyk was poised to finish off a wire-to-wire win at the Bridgestone Invitational until he made double bogey from the middle of the 18th fairway.gave up a four-shot lead with four holes to play in the British Open,
His 5-foot bogey putt to at least get into a playoff never had a chance, and he immediately dropped his putter and bent over with a mixture of shock and disgust.
''I led the golf tournament the entire way and lost it on the very last hole,'' Furyk said. ''To get that close and to know that I played more than good enough to win the golf tournament, and not close the door, is disappointing. It is a cruel game. I've lost some tournaments in some pretty poor fashions, but I don't think I've let one ever slip nearly as bad as this one. This was my worst effort to finish off an event.''
Lost in his 18th hole collapse was a sterling performance by Bradley, who shot 31 on the back and came up with one clutch putt after another. None was bigger than the final stroke of his 6-under 64. After blasting out of a plugged lie in the bunker, he poured in a 15-foot putt for par that turned out to be the winner.
''I didn't think for a second I was going to miss it,'' Bradley said. ''It was unbelievable. I got behind it, and I barely even had to read it. I knew the exact way it was going to break. I just needed to hit it hard enough. I knew that. And it was dead center.''
Furyk led by one shot playing the 18th and got a huge break when his tee shot bounced out of the trees to the left and back into the fairway. That's where it all fell apart. His 7-iron went long, into a bunker and hopped out into the collar. He had to place his left foot in the sand to play a shot with the ball sitting up, and the delicate chip barely cleared the bunker and settled into more thick grass.
The chip for his fourth shot was a clunker, stopping 5 feet short of the pin, and the bogey putt was what Furyk called ''my worst putt of the week.''
Bradley won for the third time in his career, his last win coming a year ago at the PGA Championship. He became the 11th player to win a major and a World Golf Championship, and the win moved him to No. 4 in the Ryder Cup standings. With one week left to grab one of eight spots, he's all but assured of making his first team.
''My hope standing on the 18th tee was to make birdie and maybe force a playoff,'' Bradley said. ''But you know, just from being out here, you just never know what's going to happen.''
It was the 11th time this year - and fourth time in the last five weeks - that the winner came from at least four shots behind in the final round.
The ending was devastating for Furyk in so many ways.
He was tied for the lead at the U.S. Open with three holes to play when he hooked his tee shot on the 16th hole, made bogey and never caught up. This time, he was in control at Firestone from his opening 63, all the way through the final round when he started with three straight birdies and made an 18-foot birdie on the 16th to seemingly hold off the late charge by Bradley.
''I have no one to blame but myself,'' Furyk said. ''But when things go wrong, it's an empty feeling. I'm disappointed. I walked over, my boy is crying right after the round. And I guess it reminds you as an adult - as a parent - that you have to act the proper way. You have to do and say the right things to try to give the right lessons.
''But there's no way I should have made any worse than 5 on the last hole,'' he said. ''There's no way I should have done worse than a playoff.''
He went from what appeared to be a certain win to a 69 and a tie for second with, who made four birdies on his last five holes for a 64.
Bradley was four shots behind going into the final round, and was six shots back when Furyk opened with three straight birdies. Bradley kept pecking away at the lead, holing a 25-foot birdie putt on the seventh, scrambling for par on the 12th, and starting the back nine with a pair of birdies.
Furyk finally answered with an 18-foot birdie putt on the 16th, only for Bradley to follow him in for birdie from 12 feet. Bradley took only 12 putts on the back nine, including par saves on the final two holes.
He finished on 13-under 267.
Stricker found his putting stroke at Firestone - not that it was ever deep in hiding - and showed that down the stretch with his closing stretch of birdies. It was an important performance for Stricker, who moved up three spots to No. 10 in the Ryder Cup standings. Furyk is No. 11, followed by Rickie Fowler at No. 12.
Tiger Woods played bogey-free for a 66, his lowest score since a 65 in the second round at Bay Hill at the end of March. He was never in the tournament, 11 shots behind going into the final round, though he picked up the tiniest of consolations. He now has back-to-back finishes in the top 10 on the PGA Tour for the first time in nearly three years. And he at least heads to Kiawah Island feeling good about his game.
''I hit a lot of good shots and never really sniffed making a bogey all day,'' said Woods, who played his final 23 holes without a bogey. ''I feel very good about where I'm at. I'm excited about it.''
The nature of the course changed drastically with a quarter-inch of rain overnight, and a burst of showers that stopped play for nearly three hours Sunday morning. Shots to the green were spinning back instead of bouncing forward. Pars no longer were good enough.
Furyk picked up on that quickly, and came out even stronger than he did on Saturday. He dropped only one shot when he drove to the right into the trees on No. 6 and missed a 10-footer for par. He was rarely in jeopardy the rest of the way until he found himself in the middle of the fairway on the final hole, needing a par to win.
Instead, he watched someone else take home the $1.4 million first prize.
''Keegan played a heck of a back nine,'' Furyk said. ''He did everything he needed to do to win the golf tournament. I felt like I did the same, until the 18th hole.''