GOLF

Keegan Bradley will be the big favorite for his hometown in the final round

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BROOKLINE, Mass. “Keegan Bradley was in his element. He was in a place he had always dreamed of being since he was a sports-addicted kid growing up in Vermont.

He was at home plate at Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox.

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He was on the Boston Garden floor playing for the Celtics.

He was at Gillette Stadium on a Sunday wearing a Patriots uniform.

Bradley was in all of these places at once as he descended the 18th fairway at the Country Club late Saturday afternoon, about to close out his third round of the US Open with the crowd piling up the ropes around the green chanting “Keegan, Keegan, Kegan.”

Bradley, who fired a second consecutive Under-69 shot on Saturday to move within 2 for the tournament and just two shots clear of headers held by Will Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick, had put himself in contention to win his match home darling in the United States. Open.

Shortly after he finished playing, the echoes of those “Keegan, Keegan, Keegan” chants were still ringing, like beautiful music, in his ears.

“Honestly, it was one of the most amazing moments of my entire life,” an emotional Bradley said afterwards. “I could feel what it’s like to play at Fenway, to play in the Garden, to play at Gillette Stadium. I felt like a Boston player there. It was a moment I will never forget. the rest of my life, and I appreciate the fans who gave me that, and I hope to get them cheering again [Sunday].”

Keegan Bradley hits a shot on the fifth hole during the third round of the US Open.
Keegan Bradley hits a shot on the fifth hole during the third round of the US Open.
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Bradley closing the deal and capturing the 122nd US Open within three hours of where he grew up would be epic.

“As a child, I dreamed of playing in front of Boston fans and being a Patriot or being in the Garden,” Bradley said. “Most of the time, I play across the world or the country, and I’m on my own. Here today I felt like I was in a home game, which is something that as a kid… that’s a dream.

Frank Darby, who coached Bradley when he played college golf at St. John’s, watched from his home in Connecticut on Saturday and recognized exactly what he had seen all those years in Queens – a tenacious player and fearless who thrives in the difficult conditions The Country Club prevailed in the third round, with falling temperatures and high winds.

“He’s a sports junkie, he thrives on it all,” Darby told the Post by phone. ” He is not scared. He is passionate about everything. The only thing that helped him were those great players he was around – [Tom] Brady, he’s close with Michael Jordan, he’s close with Jack Nicklaus, lives at Nicklaus’ club [in Florida]. He feeds on all these great players, because he wants to be like them.

Keegan Bradley pumps his face as he plays the 18th catch of the US Open third round.
Keegan Bradley pumps his face as he plays the 18th catch of the US Open third round.
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Success came early for Bradley, who won the PGA Championship in 2011, his first year on the PGA Tour, and was named Rookie of the Year for it. The victory earned him status in all major events, propelled him quickly into the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams (on which he thrived).

Then the exhausting juggernaut of golf and life took hold of him for several years and his game was lost in the desert. Suddenly, Bradley was no longer automatically in the majors and red-carpeted in the tag team event.

It gnawed at him, made him realize that he had taken these things for granted, because they came to him so quickly.

From 2012 to 2018, he went 165 tournaments without a win until ending the drought with a victory in the BMW Championship. His form has since improved and his world ranking has moved up to 47th place.

It’s possible that the pressure Bradley put on himself to just step onto the court for this US Open was greater than it has been for the past three days when he was actually playing in the tournament.

“I saw it was on the program and the first thought is, ‘Oh man, I have to play, now it’s gotten stressful,'” he said.

When he bogeyed Nos. 2, 3 and 6 on Saturday, Bradley’s dream of winning the US Open on home soil was shattered. He was 3-over and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler had moved to 6-under and looked set to run away.

Bradley rallied with birdies on numbers 8 and 9, and that changed everything.

“I made that putt on 9 and the crowd went crazy,” he said. “It really gave me a burst of energy. I felt it. I could feel it leaving. I could feel the energy changing. It put me on the path to, ‘Okay, we don’t. “Let’s try more to save this cycle. Let’s try to put ourselves in contention here. And I did.”

Now what? Is there another magical day in store for the hometown kid?

“Tomorrow is going to be a tough day,” Bradley said. “I know that. It’s fair. It would be if I was playing in Tulsa. But playing here, it’s going to be intense, but I’ve had this weird feeling of calm about me this week. I don’t know if that will be there tomorrow or not.”

If so, then Bradley will truly have his Tom Brady, Roger Clemens and Larry Bird moment.

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