JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - Here is a good one: A golfer is in his first major championship, trails by five shots with three holes to go and still thinks he can win. Fat chance. That's like being down three games to none against the Yankees, trailing in the ninth inning of Game 4 and facing Mariano Rivera.
The fact is, Keegan Bradley believes in stuff like that. One of his great sports memories is having been a lone Red Sox fan on the campus of St. John's in 2004, when his team made that unforgettable comeback and went on to win the World Series.
Bradley produced his own great memory Sunday, staging another of sports' unforgettable comebacks. He really did trail Jason Dufner by five after making a triple-bogey 6 on the 15th hole, and he seemed finished. But he didn't give up.
"The course is so tough that no lead is safe," Bradley said as he sat alongside the venerable Wanamaker Trophy.
The PGA Tour rookie birdied the 16th, sank a 35-foot putt for birdie on 17 and had a safe two-putt par on the difficult 18th as Dufner, a group behind, made three bogeys in those final four holes. They finished 8 under par and went to a three-hole playoff on 16, 17 and 18. Bradley won that, making birdie on 16 to Dufner's par even after Dufner nearly drained a shot from the fairway.
"He's got a lot of things going for him. He's got a great pedigree with Pat Bradley in his family," Dufner said, referring to Keegan's aunt, an LPGA Hall of Famer. "He seems like a good kid, and he has probably got a pretty strong future out here."
The future might never offer another good opportunity for Dufner, 34, a former walk-on at Auburn who never has won a PGA Tour event. He had an outstanding week until the final 40 minutes of regulation. "They are just tough, tough holes,'' he said, "and unfortunately, that was the deciding factor."
There were other possible deciding factors, such as the athleticism of the wiry 25-year-old who wore St. John's red and white (as he always does on Sundays). "He hits it about 30, 40 yards by me," Dufner said. There also is Bradley's attitude, honed as a kid in Vermont and sharpened in mentorship from Phil Mickelson (who shot par for the week).
"Phil has been great to me. He has told me to stay more patient out there," Bradley said. "And the major thing I tried to do this week was underreact to everything . . . I overreacted a little when I made the putt at 17, but that was something that just came out of me."
In some ways, Bradley seemingly was destined for big things. He was born between Jack Nicklaus' 1986 Masters win and Ray Floyd's U.S. Open win in the year Pat Bradley won three majors (and the year of the Bill Buckner game). Bradley was the first to win his first major since Ben Curtis at the British Open in 2003 and the first ever to win a major with a long putter.
But what really stands out is his homespun down-to-earthiness. He dined Saturday on his mom's spaghetti and sister's strawberry shortcake. An official from his management company babysat his 10-month-old nephew so both women could watch the playoff. Bradley talks about staying up late the night before an afternoon tee time. Sometimes he doesn't turn in until 11.
"It seems like a dream," he said, "and I'm afraid I'm going to wake up here in the next five minutes and it's not going to be real."