Keegan Bradley, the excitable 25-year-old rookie who won last month's PGA Championship, has never played the Deutsche Bank Championship, the second installment of the four-part FedEx Cup playoffs starting Friday. Still, Bradley has plenty of history at TPC Boston, the tournament's host course.
When he was a student at Hopkinton High, about 26.2 miles outside Boston, Bradley attended the Deutsche Bank in its formative years, and thrilled at seeing Tiger Woods hit a shot in person. And he vividly recalls playing a high school match at TPC Boston in the fall of his senior year. "They just had done like a military punch on the golf course," he says. "It was barely playable. It was cold."
Still, he shot 32 in the nine-hole match, beating a playing partner by 20 shots.
Not since the heydays of Billy Andrade and Brad Faxon have New England sports fans had such a rooting interest in one of their own on Tour. Bradley is part of a deep field this week that also includes resurgent Vijay Singh, who is suddenly eighth in FedEx Cup points; Phil Mickelson, another former champion here; and FedEx leader Dustin Johnson, who is coming off a win at the 54-hole Barclays.
Bradley will try to replicate his high school success on bomber-friendly TPC Boston a week after missing the cut at the Barclays. He'll play in front of a large audience of friends and family, including LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, who lives in Hyannis. With his two victories, including a major, Keegan will almost certainly be Rookie of the Year, but he may need a big September to nab Player of the Year, too. He's fallen to 20th in Presidents Cup qualifying, creating a possible headache for U.S. captain Fred Couples, who will burn one of his two wildcard picks on Tiger Woods for November's matches in Melbourne, Australia.
And at 14th in FedEx points, Bradley, a Red Sox fan who threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park on Tuesday, isn't guaranteed an invitation into the season-ending Tour Championship, which takes only the top 30. "Yeah, the biggest thing right now for me is to try to downplay this week as much as I can," Bradley said.
That was his strategy at the PGA in Atlanta, which turned out well. Still, while Bradley will be the fan favorite, and a good bet to do well, the 48-year-old Singh would seem a better pick to win. It's not just that he's prevailed twice at TPC Boston, or that he's won the FedEx Cup. A 34-time winner on the PGA Tour, Singh has gone 29 under par in his last two tournaments, a T4 at the Wyndham and a T3 at the Barclays, since getting treatment for his ailing back in Germany.
Others who barely got into the 100-man field in Boston continue to provide their own gripping narratives. Ernie Els shot a final-round 67 at the Barclays to move from 118th to 99th in the battle for survival, a bake-off that the big South African alternately described as "sadistic" and "fun." Ian Poulter birdied four of his last five holes in New Jersey to shoot 64 and become one of the eight players who worked their way inside the top 100. Little-known William McGirt, a 32-year-old North Carolinian who honeymooned on Cape Cod, was on the outside looking in until he birdied the 17th hole at Plainfield C.C. to get to Boston.
McGirt's unlikely story serves as a reminder that not everyone vying for the FedEx Cup's $10 million first prize is already fully vested and otherwise fat and feathered. He missed advancing to the PGA Tour's Q School finals by two shots in 2006 and by one in '07 and '08 — lipping out on the last hole both times. "It was starting to get frustrating," he said. "I was like, I've either got to find a way to get a lot better or maybe it's time to go get another job or something."
He got to the finals in '09, ensuring a spot on the Nationwide Tour in 2010. He didn't make enough money to get his Tour card, but got it anyway with a tie for second at Q School last fall. He's had mixed results on Tour, making 14 cuts in 27 starts, but his high-wire act at the Wyndham (T52) and the Barclays (T24) at least got him back to Boston. (McGirt is also a Red Sox fan.) He was in the 17th fairway at Plainfield, having hit a 7-iron to within six feet of the pin, when his wife, using hand signals, flashed that he'd been projected to finish 101st and thus miss the Deutsche Bank. Well aware of the ramifications, McGirt drained the birdie putt.
"I'm tickled to death that I didn't find another job," he said, "and I can tell you after being out here for a year, I wouldn't trade this job for anything."