AKRON, Ohio -- It should be obvious by now that Fred Couples made a mistake a year ago.
A mistake about Keegan Bradley.
Bradley? That's right, Fred. Damn straight you wanted him on your Presidents Cup team. The kid, if a 26-year-old still counts as being a kid, won two tournaments last year. Both in playoffs with clutch putts. One was a major championship, the PGA. And you left him off the team, Captain Fred? What were you thinking?
All right, Bradley's 2012 season hadn't been quite as stellar. No wins, a couple of close calls -- a couple of tournaments Bradley thought he should've won. But remember Riviera back in February? Phil Mickelson made a putt to get into a playoff with Bill Haas. Then Bradley made a sizable putt on top of him to get in the playoff, too. That was gutsy.
Sunday, Bradley did it again. He faced a 15-foot par putt on the final green here at Firestone Country Club that would guarantee him, at worst, a playoff with Jim Furyk. Bradley poured it in. It was like watching Kobe Bryant take a shot at the buzzer and knowing all along he was going to make it.
Bradley just stole the World Golf Championship's Bridgestone Invitational from Furyk the way Ernie Els snatched the claret jug from Adam Scott at the British Open. This was more dramatic, though. Els had no idea his final putt would be to win, or even to get in a playoff. But Bradley knew he had to make his. It was all or nothing. He made it, and this is the cool part about him, he knew he was going to make it. He said he never had a thought about not making it.
"I just kept telling myself that this is the exact moment that I live for," Bradley said later. "It's just an amazing feeling to be in that moment and loving every second of it."
If his closing 64 at Firestone wasn't impressive enough -- it tied Steve Stricker for lowest final-round score -- that last pressure-packed par putt certainly was.
Bradley has guts. He has power. And don't be fooled by that unwieldy belly putter, the guy can putt. He's won three tournaments, two of them big ones, in two years on Tour. He is exactly the type of player that Ryder Cup captain Davis Love should be looking for, a guy who wants the ball for the last shot. He is what Couples should have been looking for last year, too.
Love won't repeat Fred's mistake. In fact, Love may not even have the chance, because Bradley will probably make the Ryder Cup team on points. The Bridgestone win moved him up to fourth on the points list, and the top eight qualify automatically. Should Bradley slip out of the top eight, though, it's inconceivable that Love would pass him up. Bradley has never played on a Ryder Cup team or a Presidents Cup team, but it's clear that he lives and breathes for those kinds of competitions the way that Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer and Paul Azinger and other recent memorable Ryder Cuppers did.
"I try not to let people know how much it means to me, but I think about it every second," Bradley said. Laughing, he added, "I probably shouldn't even be saying that. But I just want to be on that team so badly. I was so close last year, and it would mean so much to be on that team. I hope this is enough to get me there."
This is hardly a news flash, but we've mostly been hearing about how Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy are the next big things in golf. Well, Fowler just got his first win in May. Johnson hasn't won a major yet, but he's kicked away a couple of great chances. McIlroy has won the same number of majors as Bradley.
There's an indefinable "it" in golf, that ability to almost will the ball into the hole. Fowler showed that with his clutch four-birdie finish in his singles match at the 2010 Ryder Cup. Bradley has shown it every time he's had a chance to win, including his come-from-behind playoff win at last year's Byron Nelson Championship. If Bill Haas hadn't drained a 40-foot ocean liner of a putt in the playoff at the Northern Trust Open in February, Bradley might have won in Los Angeles this year, too.
The reason behind Bradley's mediocre-until-now summer was probably the Ryder Cup. Bradley wants it too much. This week, he was able to let go and just play. That live-in-the-moment stuff? He might've been born with it. Maybe it's genetic.
"When I was a little kid playing matches against other guys, I used to love coming down to the last hole having to make a birdie," Bradley said. "I'm still just a little kid out there playing. I love it. To be at Firestone, playing against Jim Furyk, I was just reveling in it. I'm so lucky that I love it because it's a weird feeling out there, and I seem to thrive on it a little bit.
"Two or three years ago, I was in Hawkinsville, Ga., grinding it out on the Hooters Tour. This is sweeter because of the caliber of player Jim is. He's been so great to me. I really look up to the guy. To come down the stretch with Jim Furyk, battling -- you dream about that. It's just an amazing experience."Go to Page 2