Keegan Bradley was raised in New England and went to college at St. John’s, but New Jersey can feel like home sometimes, at least it did Saturday afternoon when Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus seemed like the perfect place to be.
Normally, Bradley can be on the jittery side. At one time he was known for excessive spitting between shots or constantly twirling his clubs. But he was the picture of serenity in the third round of the Northern Trust, tying a course record with a 9-under par 62 to vault to 12-under-par.
He stands in second place, at 16-under heading into Sunday’s final round. His bogey-free round included nine birdies, the final two coming on the par-5 17th and the more difficult par-4 18th where he drained an eight-footer to punctuate his round and briefly take the lead in the tournament.
“I hit a bunch of shots really close early on, and then I made some putts coming down the end, but that one on 18 felt good,” Bradley said. “That hole’s tough. I know I’m most likely going to be a few shots back with how these guys are playing. So I knew coming down the end that these birdies are going to be big come [Sunday].”
It has been a while since Bradley enjoyed a meaningful Sunday with lofty implications. Maybe it came a little too easy for him in the beginning. He won the 2011 PGA Championship, playing in his first major and earned the Rookie of the Year Award that season. But he has just three career tour victories, the last coming at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in 2012, the year he also made the Ryder Cup team.
He hasn’t done much since, though Bradley has continued to work hard on his game and his emotions to the point where it all came easily to him on Saturday.
“I can’t remember the last time I felt that calm and together the whole round from the very first tee,” Bradley said. “I actually felt calmer as the day went on. It’s not really normally the case with me. That was fun.”
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It was a near flawless round. He found just 7 of 14 fairways, but reached all 18 greens in regulation. His iron play was so precise that six of his birdies came from within 10 feet. His longest putt for birdie was a 15-footer at the par-5 13th.
“My iron play is as good as I can hit it,” Bradley said, adding, “A lot of times when you go out and shoot a really low number sometimes coming in you can feel a little pressure. I just didn’t feel it. I felt calm for the whole way around. That’s exciting because if I can keep that going, I think I’m going to be able to play well again [Sunday].”
Expect there to be a little more pressure in the final round than there was on Saturday. Bradley will have to outduel a formidable list of contenders that include DeChambeau, who shot an 8-under 63 to take a comfortable 54-hole lead and Tony Finau who is lurking at 11-under. “There are some really big names at the top of the leaderboard, so I expect them to go out and shoot good scores,” Bradley said.
Bradley, 32, hasn’t been a big name for a while. He entered the tournament ranked 49th in FedEx Cup standings but could move up to as high as No. 3 with a win here. He is hoping the FedExCup can be the start of a comeback to where he’s consistently in contention at major tournaments and for the U.S. Ryder cup and Presidents Cup teams.
“I’ve got a lot to play for in these FedExCup Playoffs,” Bradley said. “I’m trying to get back in the majors. I’m trying to get back in the WGCs and with one good week here, you can do that. I’ll all-out every week, every day because there’s so much to play for this time of year that can set up your following year and even years to come.”
For now he’ll settle for one special Sunday in New Jersey.
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