CROMWELL (AP) – Growing up in New England, Keegan Bradley says he wasn’t invited to the big youth events Florida youngsters got to play.
That made it even more special for the Vermont native to win in front of a New England crowd.
Despite a shaky finish, which he said was down to nerves from wanting to win so much, the 37-year-old broke the tournament record at the Travelers Championship on Sunday for his sixth tournament victory.
Bradley closed with a 2-under 68 to finish three shots ahead of Zac Blair, who shot a 62, and Brian Harman, who closed with a 64.
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“This is for all the kids, like me, who grew up in the winter and can’t play and would watch kids from Florida, down south, get better and compete and get invited to the biggest tournaments in the country instead of i have never been invited,” he said. “I hope they know they can come from this area … and still get to golf.”
Bradley, who went 62-63-64 in the first three rounds, finished at 23-under 257 at TPC River Highlands, one stroke better than Kenny Perry’s previous record from 2009.
With fans chanting his name, the 37-year-old walked up to his ball on the 18th green, sank a 2-foot putt and threw his arms in the air and let out a scream.
“I can’t even describe how it felt,” Bradley said. “I’ve dreamed my whole life of playing at Fenway Park, Gillette Stadium, and to feel so close to what it would feel like. I had a bunch of people say they’d never heard the 18th hole like that.”
Bradley had made just one bogey for the week before three-putting his final six holes as his nerves seemed to wear on him. It was the first PGA Tour event he attended, and the one he said he wanted to win more than the majors. This was his second win of the season; he won the Zozo Championship in Japan in October.
Bradley birdied the par-4 12th hole to move to 5 under on the day and take a six-shot lead. But he chipped his tee shot into the water on the next hole, putting him in bogey. He also bogeyed the 14th and 16th holes.
He settled for a par on the 17th for all but guaranteed himself a triumphant walk to the final hole.
“I played great until the end, like five or six holes, and luckily I had a pretty big home advantage,” Bradley said.
He became the first New Englander to win the title since Connecticut’s JJ Henry in 2006.
Bradley moved to seventh in the US Ryder Cup rankings; the top six qualify for the team, with captain Zach Johnson getting six picks. He said that was the first thing he mentioned to his wife as they were leaving the course.
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“I still have a lot to show the captain and I would like to go to Rome and be part of the team,” he said.
Bradley took $3.6 million from a raised purse of $20 million as the tournament became one of 17 designated events on the tour this season, attracting a world-class field including world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. Bradley’s earnings this season have exceeded $8.5 million.
Blair had his best finish of the tournament. The 32-year-old from Utah has been playing on a major medical exemption after missing nearly two full years with a torn labrum.
“Basically, I went from playing 18 or 36 holes every day for the last seven, eight years to not touching a club for five, six, seven months,” he said. “It was good though. I got to hang out with my family and build a golf course and do lots of other fun things. But it’s definitely better to shoot 62 on Sunday.”
Blair had back-to-back bogeys on Nos. 4 and 5, then chipped in with six birdies and an eagle on the par-5 13th, where he hit his approach from 253 yards to within 5 feet.
Harman shot 64 for the second time.
Patrick Cantlay, who shot 61 on Saturday to move within five shots of the leaders, made a run at Bradley with three birdies from Nos. 13-15. But he overshot the 16th green, leading to bogey, and chipped in his birdie attempt on the 17th. He shot a 67 to finish four shots back alongside Scheffler (65) and 2019 champion Chez Reavie (71), who started the day behind Bradley, but didn’t make a birdie until the 14th hole.
McIlroy shot a 64 and finished at 18 under after making an early charge. He birdied five of his first seven holes in front of galleries that were four or five fans deep.
But he fumbled in the ninth after his 352-yard drive landed near a boundary fence in the rough. He then missed an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 12.
TPC River Highlands gave up eight rounds of 62 or better this week.
“I don’t particularly like it when a tournament is like that,” McIlroy said. “Unfortunately, technology has run this course, hasn’t it? It’s kind of made it old, especially as mild as it’s been with the little rain we’ve had.”
US Open champion Wyndham Clark, who beat McIlroy by one shot last week at Los Angeles Country Club, shot a 66 and finished in a tie for 29th at 12 under.