What a final round it was yesterday at the PGA Championship. Coming into the round three relative unknowns occupied the top three spots. Brendan Steele and Jason Dufner were tied for first at -8 and Keegan Bradley in third one shot back.
Brendan Steele had put three excellent rounds together for rounds 1-3 with rounds of 69-68-66. The pressure of sleeping on the lead in a major and playing in the final group got the best of Steele as he shot a final round 77 (+7) despite making an eagle on the par-5 12th. By midway through his round, he was no more than a marker for then tournament leader Jason Dufner.
All week Jason Dufner's calm and cool personality helped to keep his emotions in check. Dufner found himself in the final group in a major Sunday and still showed that calm persona on the outside, but as the round progressed his game showed how nervous he really was. At one point as players around him were melting down, Dufner had a five shot lead. But that lead vanished quickly as Dufner made three consecutive birdies on holes 15-16-17. By the time he reached the 18th hole he was in a tie at -8 with Keegan Bradley, needing to par the extremely difficult par-4 to force a playoff. That he did.
When Keegan Bradley made a triple bogey on the par-3 15th, everyone but Bradley himself thought he'd blown himself out of the tournament. On the following hole Bradley striped a huge drive down the middle and hit a fantastic 8-iron to birdie range on the par-4, 478 yard 16th. Birdie. On the par-3 17th hole Bradley pushed his tee shot 40 feet right of the pin, leaving a slick downhill putt that no player had made all day. Bradley's putt dove straight in the hole, and hopes of winning the PGA were revived as he got himself back to -8. A solid hybrid into the fairway on the tough 18th and a stellar 6-iron nearly got Bradley a birdie on the final hole, but the par was enough to force a playoff with the fading Dufner.
In the PGA Championship, the playoff format is a 3-hole aggregate format. So they play three holes and the player with the lowest total for the three wins. The holes were the tough final three, 16-17-18.
On the 16th hole, Dufner hit a terrific approach which nearly dropped in the hole for eagle. But he was above the hole with a very fast and tricky putt which he missed. Not to be outdone, Bradley's approach was even closer, leaving a much easier birdie putt which he made.
The par-3 17th hole was a critical hole for Dufner. He was one shot down. His approach was roughly in the same area that Bradley's 40 footer was earlier. But his speed was off and he nearly putted it off the green. His ball came to rest one foot behind Bradley's 1st shot. Two more putts from Dufner would result in a bogey. Bradley's two putt par would put him two shots up with one to play.
Both players hit the fairway on the 18th, but Dufner's driver was about 15-20 yards longer than Bradley's hybrid. Both players' approach shots hit the green, left of the pin. Just to make things interesting Dufner made his birdie putt which reduced Bradley's cushion. Bradley had to two putt to win which he confidently did.
Earlier this year the rooking Bradley won his first ever PGA Tour event at the Byron Nelson in Texas. The PGA Championship was the first major tournament he'd ever played it and joined a very small and elite group of players who won their first ever major start. Another first this past weekend was the fact that a major championship victory was recorded by a player with a long putter.