By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
AKRON, Ohio -- Firestone Country Club just might owe Keegan Bradley something.
He entered the final round of last year's World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational trailing by two and was just one behind when he made the turn. But everything went sour on the back nine that Sunday as Bradley's bid disintegrated with a closing 41 that left him tied for 15th.
"I really felt devastated here last year," Bradley said earlier this week.
Turns out, Bradley says, that free-fall was instrumental in his victory the following week at the PGA Championship -- particularly when he made triple bogey on the 15th hole seven days later at the Atlanta Athletic Club because "I kind of knew how to handle it a little better," he said.
Bradley will defend his PGA Championship title next week at Kiawah Island. But first he has another chance to win the Bridgestone Invitational, starting the final round alone in third at 7 under, four strokes off the pace being set for the third straight day by Jim Furyk.
"It's weird how it all worked out," Bradley said, joking about biorhythms. "My scores are pretty darned identical almost. It's kind of weird, but it feels about the same."
Bradley put himself in position with a 67 on Saturday that he called "one of my best (rounds) of the year" and included three birdies and just one bogey. He's been putting extremely well this week, taking just 24 in the third round and ranking second in the field. He's also tied for sixth in fairways hit and 18th in greens in regulation.
"I think I'm sitting great," Bradley said. "I'm kind of happy that I got myself back into position. I was kind of here last year, in a position to win, and I'm just going to enjoy it. I love so much being in contention. This is fun for me. It's kind of boring when you're not able to do this every week."
Bradley, who tied for eighth earlier this year at the World Golf Championships-Cadillac Championship, has had a solid sophomore season. He nearly won his third PGA TOUR event at the Northern Trust Open, losing to Bill Haas in a playoff, and has two other top-10s.
The New Englander hasn't finished better than 24th in his last 10 starts, though, so this week is a confidence boost at the just right time. Particularly with Bradley ranked one spot shy of automatically qualifying for the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the team is finalized next week.
Tournament officials have moved tee times up due to the threat of thunderstorms and players will be sent off the first and 10th tees in threesomes. As a result, Bradley will play in the final group with Furyk and Louis Oosthuizen, who trails by one.
"A lot has happened since that round, and I think that I'm better equipped for it this year," Bradley said.