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All-time comeback for first-time major player
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Forsyth County News

So, where does Keegan Bradley’s PGA Championship win rank on the list of all-time great sports comebacks?

Right alongside the 1951 Giants coming back from 13½ games behind to beat the Dodgers out of the pennant on Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard ‘Round the World?

Right up there with Muhammad Ali coming back to reclaim his heavyweight title with a knockout of the previously untouchable, unbeatable, indestructible George Foreman?

Comparable to Dave Wottle’s dramatic dash from dead last place —by a long shot —through the field to win the 1972 Olympic 800-meter final in his final stride?

Or, perhaps, it ranks right up there with the greatest comeback of all, when the 2004 Red Sox came back to beat the Yankees for the American League pennant, sweeping four games after losing the first three.

"I wore my Red Sox cap all over Queens," Bradley told Bill Pennington of the New York Times. Bradley, a native Vermonter, was a student at St. John’s University at the time. "It was historic."

So was Bradley’s win Sunday at the Atlanta Athletic Club’s rugged Highlands Course. He walked off the 15th green five strokes behind Jason Dufner with but three holes to play.

He had just triple-bogeyed the par-3 15th, a devilish hole which leads off a treacherous closing quartet dubbed "Calamity Lane" by Phil Mickelson.

Bradley had hit over the green. Twice. His chip from the thick rough behind the green was low, fast and, ultimately, rinsed. Then he had to make that longest of walks, from the green past the water to the drop area, and hit his fourth shot. He missed the putt for a five.

"I kept telling myself, don’t let that hole define this whole tournament," Bradley recalled at his post-tournament press conference. "I had played so well and I gutted out rounds, and I just didn’t want to be remembered as the guy who tripled that hole and went on to bogeying or something."

Even the best players have trouble blocking out calamitous events. Mickelson himself let a short missed putt derail his charge in this year’s British Open.

Keegan Bradley? Here’s a guy playing in his very first major tournament. Ranked 108th in the world. Coming off a disaster of a finish after playing himself into contention just a week ago. Clearly, he’s no Phil Mickelson.

Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe Bradley was too naïve to realize that a triple bogey on the 69th hole of a major is fatal.

Maybe it’s the ’69 Mets Syndrome. They were too young to believe they couldn’t chase down the veteran Cubs, who held a 9½ game lead on August 13. But those young Mets won 38 of their last 49 games, beat the favored Braves in the first NLCS, and stunned the favored Orioles in the World Series.

"I remember walking off that green going, you know, the last four holes are so tough here that somebody could have a five shot lead. It doesn’t matter. Just pretend like nothing happened, and go out there and hit this fairway. That’s what I kept telling myself walking to the tee … just hit this fairway. That’s all you’ve got to worry about."

So, what sort of results did our amateur sports psychologist achieve? He deserves to tell you himself:

"I just tried to steady myself on the tee, and I hit the best drive of the week on 16. I absolutely hammered it. I absolutely striped it right down the middle. I only had 153 yards to the pin, and that’s the least I’ve had by 20 yards."

He dropped his approach shot six feet from the hole and made the birdie putt.

Then he hit safely onto the 17th green and stroked a 35-foot putt.

"It would be a putt that I’ll never forget the rest of my life. I hit that putt and I kind of moved over and got in good position, and that thing went in dead center. It was unbelievable!"

Triple bogey, birdie, birdie. If that’s ever been achieved to close out a major, golf’s historians remain silent. Bradley then parred the 18th, which, to most of us mere mortals, would be scored a birdie.

Still, Bradley needed some help, and Dufner obliged. He dumped his tee shot into the water on 15, his approach into a bunker on 16, and hit his initial putt on 17 rather robustly. Three bogeys, combined with Bradley’s two birdies, and there went the five-stroke lead.

The playoff went quickly, predictably, almost anticlimactically, Bradley’s way. "It was the most calm I’ve been probably all week. And I don’t know the reason why or what it was, but I was completely calm."

Perhaps that’s just how it feels inside one of sports’ greatest comebacks.