Set the DVR because four-time PGA Championship winner Tiger Woods will tee it up with defending champ and newly crowned Bridgestone Invitational victor Keegan Bradley, as well as 2010 PGA titleholder Martin Kaymer, in the first two rounds of the PGA Championship.
Bradley will be riding the thrill of Sunday’s stunning final-hole triumph over Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker at Firestone, while Woods will enter the fray on a positive note after a final-round 4-under 66. Woods, who scuffled in the first two rounds, shooting 70 and 72, came back in the third round with a 68 and was flawless in his four-birdie finale, hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
A non-factor last week, Woods needed 29 putts, which matched Friday’s total and had the world No. 2 pleased with his overall performance.
“I putted well the last two days, which was good,” he told reporters Sunday night after finishing tied for eighth at 4-under -- nine shots back of Bradley. “More importantly, I hit the ball on my start lines, and that’s something I did not do the first couple days. I misread a couple, but that’s just the way it goes. But at least every putt was starting on the right line, and that’s something that I’m very excited about going into next week.”
For sure, Woods heads to Kiawah Island brimming with self-assurance about his chances to chalk up a 15th major championship and chip away at Sam Snead’s 82 tour wins total with his 75th.
“My tee-to-green game today was, I thought, pretty dialed in,” Woods said. “I was hitting it long, I was hitting it straight, and my irons I was shaping both ways in all different trajectories with the wind blowing. That was about as absolute high a score as I could possibly shoot today.”
As for Bradley, someone may have to convince the 26-year-old who grabbed his third tour win in 15 months on Sunday that he’s not dreaming.
“I just kept telling myself that this is the exact moment that I live for, that you play golf for, that you grow up your whole life, and I'm living it,” Bradley said about draining his 16-foot par putt on the 18th hole. “It's just an amazing feeling to be in that moment and just loving every second of it.
“I didn't think for a second I was going to miss it. It was unbelievable,” Bradley added. “I got behind it, and I barely even had to read it. I knew the exact way it was going to break. I just needed to hit it hard enough. I knew that. And it was dead center.”
After winning the first major championship he ever started and compiling two more big league wins, Bradley still seemed awed to be in the company he now keeps on a regular basis.
“To be coming down the stretch with a guy like Jim Furyk, battling ... you dream about it,” Bradley said. “I went through it with Phil [Mickelson] at Riviera [when the two lost to Bill Haas in a playoff at the Northern Trust Open in February]. And it's moments like that where you kind of have to pinch yourself, where two years ago, three years ago I was in Hawkinsville, Ga., playing on the Hooters Tour, grinding it out.
“It's just an amazing experience,” the seemingly awed Bradley said. “To be honest with you, I hate to keep saying this, but when I'm out here on tour and stuff like this happens, it doesn't seem real, it seems fake. I realize I'm speaking but it doesn't seem like words are coming out of my mouth.”
Bradley conceded that, with a cut and a T16 following his first two wins on tour, holding onto the PGA trophy would be a difficult task. But the 2011 Rookie of the Year said he would reach out to his mentor, Mickelson, as well as his LPGA Tour Hall of Fame aunt Pat Bradley for some advice.
“After I won [the 2011 Byron Nelson Championship] and I missed the cut terribly at Memorial, I asked [Pat] if she'd ever won back‑to‑back tournaments, and she said one time,” Bradley recounted. “She said it's one of the hardest things to do. I look forward to the challenge, and again, this is going to be my third time doing it. I'm going to be better equipped for it.”
We’ll see whether Bradley can come back to earth after his storybook week at Firestone when his marquee threesome hits the links at Kiawah Thursday at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Additional high-power groupings include the 1:20 trio of Masters champ Bubba Watson playing with U.S. Open and British Open winners Webb Simpson and Ernie Els. Furyk will try to dust himself off after blowing the final-round lead for the second time this season when he sticks his peg in the ground on the 10th tee at 8:10 a.m. with Dustin Johnson and 2011 U.S. Open conqueror Rory McIlroy.
Mickelson hopes to prove to his playing partner, Davis Love III, that he belongs on the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team. Lefty’s sluggish play of late has him in seventh of eight automatic spots in the points standings but a strong week at the PGA could cement his chances of making the team as a wild-card pick should he fall out of the top eight.