Featured Group: Bradley, Vegas, Steele

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June 08, 2011
PGATOUR.COM staff
Keegan BRADLEY, Jhonattan VEGAS, Brendan STEELE RD. 1 tee time (No. 10): 8:36 a.m. ET
RD. 2 tee time (No. 1): 1:36 p.m. ET
Golf Channel

At each PGA TOUR event this season, a featured pairing will be highlighted prior to the first round. Here is the featured group for Thursday and Friday at FedEx St. Jude Classic.

We're only halfway through 2011 and already it's been a life-changing year for Keegan Bradley, Brendan Steele and Jhonattan Vegas.

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The three rookies all picked up their first PGA TOUR victories this season -- Vegas at the Bob Hope Classic, Steele at the Valero Texas Open and Bradley at the HP Byron Nelson Championship. And golf fans will get to see three of the game's brightest young stars when they play together during the first two rounds of this week's FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Those victories have boosted each into the all-important top 30 of the FedExCup. Of course, they'll need to play well to stay there but Bradley, who ranks 23rd, Vegas (24th) and Steele (30th) have a leg up on the other 32 PGA TOUR rookies.

Not to mention, they have job security. Each win came with a two-year exemption that assures the Nationwide Tour grads of two more years of exempt status on the PGA TOUR.

Oh, and the paychecks didn't hurt either.

Bradley, who is the nephew of World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, is the most recent rookie champion -- beating Ryan Palmer in a playoff at TPC Four Seasons. He closed with a 68 on a difficult, blustery day in Dallas and finished about an hour ahead of Palmer.

The victory was Bradley's third top-10 of the season. Interestingly, the others came in the tournaments won by Steele, where he tied for ninth, and Vegas, where he shared seventh. Bradley turned 25 on Tuesday and is the TOUR's youngest champion this year.

Vegas, who is the TOUR's first member from Venezuela, got things rolling for the rookies when he broke through in Palm Springs. The playoff win over Gary Woodland and defending champion Bill Haas came in Vegas' second start as a TOUR member and fifth overall.

Vegas, who was the first rookie to win the Bob Hope Classic in its 52-year history, sealed the victory with a water-logged par on the second playoff hole. The following week, Vegas shot four more rounds in the 60s and tied for third at the Farmers Insurance Open.

After finishing 20th or better in four of his first six starts, though, Vegas has cooled off a little. He has missed the cut in six of his last seven starts but left Muirfield Village on a positive note with a 68 in the second round.

Like Bradley, Steele had never played in a PGA TOUR event prior to this season. He earned his card after winning the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island to vault from 30th to sixth on the money list.

Statistical comparison
Key stats from Bradley, Vegas and Steele from the 2011 season (TOUR rank in parentheses)
Catagory
BRADLEY

VEGAS

STEELE
 
2011 Top 10s 3 2 1
Current FedExCup Rank 23rd 24th 30th
Finish Last Week CUT CUT T51
Driving Distance 299.3 296.9 290.0
All-Around Ranking 42nd 93rd 65th

Steele's victory at the Valero Texas Open remains his only top-10 of the season, although he has two others of 25th or better. The win came in his 12th start of the season -- courtesy of a clutch 5-footer for par on the 72nd hole that enabled him to hold off Kevin Chappell and Charley Hoffman.

EXPERT PREDICTIONS: We asked some of our PGATOUR.COM experts to predict which player will fare best this week at TPC Southwind:

Stan Awtrey: Brendan Steele: TPC Southwind rewards accuracy over pure distance, which gives Steele a slight advantage. He may not hit it quite as far as the others but normally keeps it in play, which is as vital in Memphis as ordering a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.

Melanie Hauser: Tough call. All three first-time winners have struggled of late. Like Keegs to bounce back from last week's missed cut.

Video: Relive these rookies winning on the PGA TOUR
Keegan Bradley: The kid from New England took down Ryan Palmer in a playoff at the wind-swept HP Byron Nelson Championship. Bradley rallied on the weekend to beat Palmer, a three-time TOUR winner who had cruised most of the week at TPC Four Seasons. Watch
Jhonattan Vegas: Jhonattan Vegas didn't wait long to win on the PGA TOUR -- he took down a heavily-favored Bill Haas in regulation, then beat second-year player Gary Woodland with a world-class par in overtime at the Bob Hope Classic. Watch
Brendan Steele: Cue the "Nerves of Steele" headlines. The kid from the Inland Empire in California tamed windy conditions at TPC San Antonio with a 68-71 weekend. Steele parred the 72nd hole to win by a shot over Charley Hoffman and fellow Nationwide Tour grad Kevin Chappell. Watch

Craig Dolch: Keegan Bradley. He had an expected letdown last week when he missed the cut at the Memorial, but he will bounce back and play with plenty of confidence this week.

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