He arrived in Australia for only the second time in his life “trending up” in terms of performance. Sixth and 19th in his two most recent starts on the PGA Tour, 24-under par for those eight rounds and only a couple of months removed from his first PGA Tour victory in over six years, Keegan Bradley is clearly a man close to something like top form.
And not much the 32-year old American has done since he landed in Sydney for this 103rd Australian Open at The Lakes suggests that he is not going to be right in the middle of things down the fourth round stretch. His finish to the third round was a little scrappy – two bogeys marred his card over the last five holes – but at seven-under par after a 71, the 2011 USPGA Championship remains a “lurker.” Six-shots back and tied third alongside Marcus Fraser with 18-holes to play, Bradley’s is one name the leader, Abraham Ancer, will surely be watching closely come the final round.
“I played really well,” said the world number-30 who has four times finished inside the top-20 money-winners on the PGA Tour en route to more than $23m in career earnings (so far). “I’m a little bummed out by how I finished but it was really tough out there. Anything under par was a good score. It was a challenge in that wind. It was gusting a lot and blowing really hard.
“And yeah, I wish I was a little closer to Abraham. He has been playing some really good golf. That round he played today (65) is one of the best I’ve seen this year. But you never know. There are low scores out there and I look forward to doing that tomorrow.”
A little setback is nothing new for Bradley. Things have not always gone swimmingly for the Vermont native over the course of his ten-year professional career. A devotee of the now-illegal (anchored) belly putter – he was the first man in history to win a major championship with such a club – Bradley has suffered greatly since that style of putting was officially banned on January 1st 2016. That year, using and holding a normal-length putter in the traditional manner, he was a subterranean 183rd in “strokes gained putting” on the PGA Tour. In other words, he was rubbish on the greens relative to his competition.
Which is not to say he was exactly brilliant before. Even in 2011, when he won his major and was rookie of the year on the PGA Tour, Bradley was no better than 105th in “strokes gained" on the greens. His success that year was more a product of long-driving (average 300.7-yards) and accuracy (.683 strokes-gained off the tee). So this two-time Ryder Cup player has always been known more for his ball-striking than his ability to hole-out.
“I’m still working to get statistically to where I was with the belly,” he says of his new method, the shaft of his putter running up his left arm in the style also employed by Players champion Webb Simpson. “The belly putter was a tougher transition than I thought, and I kind of fell off the radar there for a little while. It's tough to go from being on Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams to being outside the top-100 in the world. That was difficult.
“But every week that I play – and obviously winning – has given me a lot of confidence going forward. I have a lot more touch with this style putter. My lag-putting on faster greens is a lot better. I’ve really made huge improvements over the last year or so.”
He’ll need to get better in the final round too. But a 65 would certainly make things interesting.