ATLANTA, Georgia, August 15 – Unheralded Keegan Bradley made an unforgettable comeback to win the 93rd PGA Championship, rallying from five strokes behind with three holes to play to win in his major debut.
The US PGA Tour rookie caught leader Jason Dufner after 72 holes and then beat his American compatriot in a three-hole aggregate playoff to capture the Wanamaker Trophy and win the $1.44 million top prize at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“It feels unbelievable,” Bradley said. “It seems like a dream and I’m afraid I’m going to wake up in the next five minutes and it’s not going to be real.”
Bradley, the 25-year-old nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley, became the first player since Ben Curtis at the 2003 British Open to win in his major debut, the first to win a major debut on US soil since Francis Ouimet at the 1913 US Open.
“I feel so proud,” Bradley said. “The playoff, those holes in regulation, I’ll never forget it the rest of my life. It was so exciting.”
Bradley, whose first PGA title came in May at the Byron Nelson Championship, was five strokes off the pace after making a triple-bogey 6 at the 15th hole, but birdied the par-4 16th and par-3 17th to battle back.
Dufner, winless in six PGA seasons, squandered his four-stroke lead on the field with four holes to play with bogeys at 15, 16 and 17, leaving each of them tied after 72 holes on eight-under par 272.
“Playing three-over coming in was disappointing,” Dufner said. “There’s a lot to be learned from this.”
In the playoff, Bradley birdied the 16th for the second time that afternoon to grab a one-stroke edge and Dufner took his second bogey within an hour at the 17th to fall two back.
Dufner sank a birdie putt on 18 but Bradley tapped in for par to win by a shot, becoming the first player using a belly putter to win a major, the 13th different winner in 13 majors and a record seventh first-time major winner in a row.
“It was pretty remarkable the way I played,” Bradley said. “I’m very proud of the way I played. It’s the best golf I’ve ever played, and man, it was so exciting.”
Bradley’s victory snapped the record six-major US win drought since Phil Mickelson’s Masters triumph last year.
Denmark’s Anders Hansen fired the day’s low round, a 66, to finish third on 273, one stroke out of the playoff and two strokes ahead of Sweden’s Robert Karlsson and Americans David Toms and Scott Verplank.
Australian Adam Scott was another stroke back on 276 with World No. 1 Luke Donald and World No. 2 Lee Westwood on 277. All three shot 68, the English duo each making a bogey at 18 to stumble back after making early charges.
Bradley, who will jump from 108th to 29th in the world rankings, and Dufner staged a wild fight down the final holes of regulation to reach only the fourth playoff in PGA Championship history under the current format.
“As soon as I realized I was going into a playoff, I completely calmed down,” Bradley said. “I got to the tee on 16, it was the most calm I’ve been probably all week.”
In the playoff, Bradley saw Dufner’s approach just miss the cup, then put his second shot even nearer to the pin. Dufner missed from six feet and settled for par. Bradley made a five-foot birdie putt to take the lead for good.
At 17, Dufner missed a 14-foot par putt for his second bogey of the day there while Bradley dropped his five-foot par putt to seize a two-stroke edge heading to the 18th tee.
Bradley blasted his second shot over a water hazard onto the green and Dufner did the same, then dropped a 25-foot birdie putt before Bradley two-putted for the title.
In the final holes of regulation, Dufner birdied the 13th hole to reach 11-under par and parred the 14th to seemingly seize command.
Karlsson took a bogey at 16 to fall four strokes off the pace and Bradley chipped over the 15th green into the water on his way to a triple-bogey 6.
But the difficult closing four-hole stretch that frustrated many of golf’s best players for four days devastated Dufner as well, starting when his tee shot at the 15th went left into a pond to set up a bogey.
“The course is so tough that no lead is safe,” Bradley said. “I kept trying to tell myself that because I knew that that was the case, especially if you got a big lead, you might get a little tight coming down the end.”
Dufner found a greenside bunker at the par-4 16th and missed a 12-foot par putt. When Bradley sank a long birdie putt on the 17th seconds later to reach eight-under, a roar went up and Dufner’s lead went down. He missed a 10-foot par putt at 17, and the rest was history.