RIO GRANDE, Puerto Rico(AP) Michael Bradley raised his fist in triumph – and relief – after sinking a putt that gave him his first PGA Tour victory in 11 years.
“I’m almost 43, and you don’t know really how many opportunities you’re going to have,” he said. “I’m not Tiger Woods. So when I do have an opportunity, come a Sunday, that maybe have a chance to win, it’s probably a little more special.”
Bradley won the Puerto Rico Open by one stroke Sunday, sinking an 11-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole.
Bradley finished at 14-under 274 to outlast Jason Day and Brett Quigley at Trump International Golf Club, a palm-fringed 7,526-yard course which was buffeted by tricky winds throughout the four-day competition.
“I didn’t know how I would react being in the final group; it’s been so long since I’ve been there,” he said. “And you know, my short game was good this week. It cured some ills that I had, some off the tee and some iron play, so I have to credit winning this to chipping and putting.”
Bradley hit his winning putt at a perfect speed after drastically misreading an eagle effort moments before. His playing partner, Day, had a chance to force a playoff with a birdie, but the 21-year-old Australian missed a 7-footer.
Bart Bryant and Greg Chalmers – who wowed the gallery with a hole-in-one on the 202-yard 16th hole – finished another shot behind to tie for fourth at 12-under 276.
As the tropical sun started to dip behind the clouds, Bradley was presented with a trophy and a check for $630,000 for the victory. It also earned the 42-year-old Floridian a two-year exemption through the 2011 season and a spot in the 2009 PGA Championship and the Mercedes-Benz Championship.
Bradley, who last year made more cuts and starts on the PGA Tour than at any time since his 2000 season, said he was thrilled to hold back a field of challengers, no matter if Tiger Woods and many of the world’s top-ranked players were on the U.S. mainland at the World Golf Championship stop, the CA Championships.
Bradley made a spectacular birdie on the scenic 12th, a 490-yard par 4 that plays toward the white-crested Atlantic. After pitching his ball from behind the green, it vanished into the hole and he playfully tossed his club and tipped his hat to the cheering gallery.
The Puerto Rico Open was Bradley’s first tournament of the 2009 season. He played 14 events in 2008 and missed the cut eight times.
Day, who was atop the leaderboard all week, got off to a fairly rough start, including making a double bogey on the par-5 2nd after dunking his ball. But he regrouped nicely and hit well coming onto the back nine, trading leads with Bradley until the 18th, when he missed his critical putt after a strong bunker shot.
“I’m disappointed that I couldn’t finish it off, but I’m very happy with myself that I actually put myself into contention, and I held my head up, and I nearly won the tournament,” Day said.
The 21-year-old Australian indicated that nerves got the best of him at the very end.
“I tell you what, my whole body was shaking over that putt, and you know, it’s the third time I’ve ever been in this position on the PGA Tour. I’ve been in this position before on the Nationwide Tour, but it’s totally different from the Nationwide to the PGA Tour, and I just missed it low,” he said.
Bryant was making a strong run at the leaders, but missed his final birdie opportunity when he misread a short putt on the 18th.
Quigley, who was playing in his 341st Tour event, but has never been in the winner’s circle, emerged quickly from the pack in the afternoon with three straight birdies.
Quigley’s 18th hole tee shot missed the fairway and he had to carve his second shot between two palm trees. It landed behind the green by the stands, but he hit a downhill shot to within 6 feet of the hole. He then sank his putt in to join the two leaders at 13 under as the gallery exploded in applause.
But Bradley’s short game saved him all week, so it was only fitting that he clinched the Puerto Rico Open with his putter.