Bradley isn't intimidated when playing with Woods

By John FeinsteinAugust 9, 2012, 8:57 pm

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – It seems as if Keegan Bradley is asked the same questions almost everywhere he goes.

“You got a text from Tom Brady?”

“You threw out a first pitch at Fenway?”

“You played golf with Michael Jordan?”

“You played your college golf at ST. JOHN’S?”

“What in the world is someone as young as you doing with a long putter?”

The questions are understandable in light of what has happened to Bradley in the 12 months since he caught Jason Dufner from behind on Sunday at the Atlanta Athletic Club, then beat him in a playoff to win the PGA Championship.

Bradley was 25, a PGA Tour rookie who might have believed at the time that his full name was “Keegan Bradley, nephew of Hall of Famer Pat Bradley.”

It may not be very long before the Hall of Famer finds herself being introduced as “Keegan Bradley’s aunt.”

Clearly, the nephew isn’t a one-time wonder. Perhaps the question he should have been asked after he shot a 4-under-par 68 in the opening round of his title defense at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course on Thursday is this: Just how good do you think you can be?

The answer would be VERY good.

It isn’t just that Bradley almost won at Riviera earlier this year, beaten by Bill Haas in a three-man playoff (Phil Mickelson was along for the ride) when Haas made a putt across the 10th green that started in Orange County and dropped into the hole after a change of area codes. It isn’t that being slighted by Fred Couples when Couples opted for Tiger Woods and Haas as his captain’s picks for the Presidents Cup team a year ago clearly motivated him to nail down a Ryder Cup spot this year. It isn’t even that he came from behind (again) last Sunday to catch Jim Furyk and win at Firestone.

It’s the look. Bradley has it. Even though he comes across in person as a 26-year-old who is still wide-eyed by all that’s gone on: “I mean, I got a note from Bill Belichick – wow, he’s always been a hero of mine,” – he certainly isn’t wide-eyed or overwhelmed when he steps inside the ropes.

Thursday he found himself on the 10th tee at 8:30 a.m. looking Tiger Woods right in the eye. Martin Kaymer, the 2010 PGA champion was also there but he might as well have pulled up a chair and watched. It would have been a lot easier than taking a long walk on a hot day en route to 79.

At least Kaymer had a front-row seat for the Bradley-Woods matchup. Make no mistake, as much as Woods loves going head to head with anyone who cares to challenge him, Bradley isn’t the least bit intimidated by him or by anyone in the game. In fact, he clearly reveled in the moment. He started out birdie-eagle and, even though he stumbled twice with three putts (one from off the green) he was clearly in his element all day.

He was practically gushing after he signed his scorecard. Speaking to the media outside the scoring area he used the word “great,” six times in five minutes and threw in an “amazing,” just for good measure. But it was one five-word sentence that was most telling: “I love playing with Tiger.”

There was a time in golf when playing with Woods was a golf death sentence. For most of 12 years, starting with the fateful Friday evening in 1997 when Colin Montgomerie declared his experience would be an advantage for playing with the 21-year-old Woods during the third round of the Masters, almost every player in golf would have taken 18 trips to the dentist over 18 holes with Woods – especially in a major championship. The day after Montgomerie’s comment he shot 74 – only nine shots more than Woods.

That sort of margin was the norm for a long time. That was then this is now.

Bradley doesn’t fear Woods, or anyone else in the game. He believes his best is as good as anyone else’s best and he knows that he can play in the heat, whether it is 90 degrees, humid and windless as it was Thursday morning or if it's Sunday afternoon at a major championship.

Or in the Ryder Cup. Bradley is much too polite to tell people what he really thinks about Couples’ decision to choose Haas over him last fall. Couples was going to take Woods because, regardless of how poor his year had been, he is still Tiger Woods and has the TV ratings to prove it. But the choice of Haas over Bradley came down to simple golf politics: The Presidents Cup is run by the PGA Tour. Haas won the biggest event the Tour has to offer: The Tour Championship and, thus, the FedEx Cup. If you offered any player on Tour five FedEx Cups or one major, they would take the major. Bradley won a major – but it was a major put on by the PGA of America.

Bradley might have fared better if Davis Love III needed to consider him for a captain’s pick on this year's Ryder Cup team since both the Ryder Cup and the PGA are run by the PGA of America. But he didn’t want to leave it up to anyone. That’s why the victory at Firestone, which locked up his spot on the team, was so important.

He came to Kiawah brimming with confidence and good cheer, although to be fair, he shows up almost everywhere brimming with good cheer. The chances that he defends his title are slim. Since Curtis Strange won a second straight U.S. Open in 1989, Woods had won majors in back-to-back years four times (Masters 2001-02; British Open 2005-06 and the PGA in 1999-2000, 2006-2007).

Among mortals here is the list of players who have accomplished that feat in the last 23 years: Padraig Harrington – British Open 2007-08.

That’s it. That’s why betting on Bradley to hold the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening probably isn’t a smart play. Then again, it isn’t that long ago that he was playing on the Hooters Tour and trying to earn a spot on the PGA Tour.

Now, he’s a major champion, a Ryder Cupper and clearly someone who is going to be a factor in the game for years.

He may get back to the mound at Fenway again in the near future.

Come to think of it, the Red Sox might be able to use him.

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

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Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.