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'KEE-gan! KEE-gan!': Boston fan Bradley becomes the object of affection

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BROOKLINE, Mass. – It’s been a tough week for the Boston sports faithful.

On Thursday, the Golden State Warriors celebrated an NBA championship on the Celtics' home court. Earlier Thursday, the Red Sox dropped a 4-3 decision to the Oakland Athletics.

A town that rides the emotional success or failure of its sports teams needed something to turn the tide and that something arrived in the form of a 36-year-old father of two who is more than a decade removed from his last major accomplishment.

Keegan Bradley didn’t win the 122nd U.S. Open on Saturday, but as he made his way up The Country Club’s 18th hole it felt like Game 7 at The Garden.

Full-field scores from U.S. Open

“KEE-gaan, KEE-gaan, KEE-gaan!” the capacity crowd chanted.

This wasn’t Fenway or Foxboro, but for the Boston masses, Bradley’s third-round 69 was a much-needed and much-celebrated distraction from an otherwise sorry week.

“That walk up 18 was the best I've ever felt at a tournament. That was really cool,” Bradley said. “It was nice that I hit a good shot in there, so I could kind of walk up, and I told myself, let's try to enjoy this walk up 18 today because it's been a hard-fought day.”

Bigger picture: it’s been a hard-fought road for Bradley.

Since winning the 2011 PGA Championship three years after turning pro, Bradley has just two additional PGA Tour titles. In fact, until early last month, he wasn’t even qualified for this New England U.S. Open, which became a priority for Bradley the moment the USGA announced its return to Brookline.

His runner-up showing at the Wells Fargo Championship moved him into the top 50 in the world ranking and into the U.S. Open field.

Bradley details importance of playing at Brookline

Bradley details importance of playing at Brookline

“No one in my family was talking about it. I thought it was strange. Then as soon as I qualified, everyone is texting, excited to come, and let's get some tickets,” he said.

Bradley, who threw out the first pitch at Fenway on Tuesday, is Boston like beer and baked beans. He’s celebrated NFL titles with the Patriots and World Series pennants with the Red Sox. He’s cheered his heroes from Tom Brady to David Ortiz, and for a few moments, even a Saturday moment at a major championship, he was able to feel that passion directed at him.

“It was one of the most amazing moments of my entire life,” said Bradley, who is tied for fourth place at 2 under par and two shots off the lead. “I got to feel what it feels like to play in Fenway, to play in the Garden, to play in Gillette Stadium. I felt like a Boston player there.

“That was a moment I'll never forget the rest of my life, and I appreciate the fans giving me that, and I hope to have them cheer again tomorrow.”

He still has plenty of work left on a wildly demanding golf course against a collection of the game’s best players – including world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, No. 2 Jon Rahm and No. 3 Rory McIlroy, who are all within three shots of the lead – but he wasn’t going to let that dull a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The last time Bradley was at The Country Club, he was a wide-eyed 13-year-old racing around the course trying to get a glimpse at the best from each side of the Atlantic Ocean, during the 1999 Ryder Cup.

The Bradleys were here on that super-charged Sunday as the United States, inspired by captain Ben Crenshaw, rallied for one of the most improbable comebacks in cup history.

“Everyone ran out on to the green, and I asked my dad if I could run out. I was a little kid,” Bradley recalled. “There's a crooked tree out here. My dad said, 'All right, I'm going to stand right next to this crooked tree, and you go out and come right back.'”

That same tree still stands along the 18th fairway. It’ll be waiting for Bradley when he reaches the 72nd hole on Sunday. Regardless of the outcome, or Bradley’s position on the leaderboard, it will be an emotional reminder of what this championship means to him.