Sang-Moon Bae, a former Order of Merit winner on the Asian Tour, picked up his first American PGA Tour win on Sunday in Dallas, edging out Keegan Bradley for the Byron Nelson Championship. Bae is one of several rising Korean players, a country that dominates women's golf and which many project to produce the next great superstar on the men's side. The Byron Nelson has launched the careers of many first-time winners on Tour, and Bae has the talent to roll the momentum from this win into multiple others before he turns 30.
It was Bae and Bradley who went off in the final group of the day, with Keegan, the 2011 winner here, holding a one-shot lead. But those two quickly flipped positions, and Bradley struggled to find the form that paced him to the early lead with a course-record opening round of 60 on Thursday. Bradley bogeyed his third hole of the day, while Bae opened on fire and picked up birdies on four of his first seven holes. At one point, the one-shot deficit became a four-shot lead for Bae before the final pairing had even made the turn.
But Bae would cool off and bring Bradley, along with Charl Schwartzel, back into it on the back side. He found the water on No. 9, and could not scramble to recover after dropping up near the green. He carded a double bogey and followed that with another bogey on No. 10 to fall back. It appeared the two would go neck-and-neck down the back nine, which features a brutal final five closing holes -- almost all of which rank among the hardest on the course. A Bae bogey on No. 15 pulled things even momentarily, setting up a three-hole impromptu match play battle.
Bradley, however, would give it away on back-to-back holes to set up a comfortable 18th hole and two-shot win for Bae. It started at No. 16, when Bradley's belly putter went awry from inside four feet. The missed short putt would be enough for Bae to separate, but on the next hole, a par-3, Bradley sent his tee shot over the green, making an up-and-down par save almost impossible. Bae needed to implode on the last -- the hardest ranked hole on this layout -- in order to give it away, but he steadily stayed in the middle from tee-to-green and avoided any water trouble to make par.
The 2-over round for Bradley was certainly disappointing in the tough windy conditions, but Bae's quick start on the front nine applied the pressure early and could be the beginning of much future Sunday success for one of Korea's most promising players.