It's deja vu for Bradley and Dufner in opening round at East LakeSeptember 22, 2011
Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM Managing Editor
ATLANTA -- Go ahead, say it together.
Haven't we seen this before??
Yes, Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner are together again in Atlanta, just five weeks after they dueled in a playoff -- that Bradley eventually won -- for the PGA Championship 26 miles north of East Lake.
But before you hyperventilate about getting to use the phrase "deja vu," here's a thought -- maybe it's no surprise that these two will be in Friday's final twosome for the second round of the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola.
After all, Dufner -- an Auburn grad -- grew up in the south and is quite comfortable putting on Bermudagrass greens. He estimates perhaps as much of 70 percent that the money he's won on the PGA TOUR has come at tournaments in places where grits are held in high esteem.
And Bradley ... well, he showed in winning at the Atlanta Athletic Club that he also plays well below the Mason-Dixon line (remember, he also won in Dallas earlier this year). Plus, the guy has game, and he seems back in form after a few busy weeks of dealing with life as a major champion.
So, the two of them together again?
"I don't think it's a coincidence by any means," said Luke Donald.
Still, the storyline will be the central theme going into Friday's second round, thanks to the 6-under 64 that Bradley shot Thursday to grab the 18-hole lead, while Dufner's 4-under 66 left him tied with Donald and Chez Reavie in second place.
Because Dufner finished ahead of Donald and Reavie, he will be paired with Bradley for the second round, with the tee time set at 2:15 p.m. ET. At the TOUR Championship, the field is re-paired after each round based on their position on the leaderboard.
"He's a good guy," Bradley said of Dufner. "I think it's cool that coming back to Atlanta, we're going to get to play with each other again."
Dufner called it "a little interesting, I guess. Maybe some thoughts here or there will come back and forth."
Of course, when we last saw them in Atlanta back on Aug. 14, it was Bradley who celebrated victory while Dufner became the sympathetic figure after his gutsy effort came up just short. Dufner handled the playoff loss well, and consequently, gained more exposure and fans.
Yet, he finds it a bit strange that people felt bad for him. After all, finishing second in a major has been his greatest accomplishment on TOUR and something he can take pride in. Why should others feel bad when he didn't?
"I told a lot of people, 'Don't feel bad for me.' There's nothing to feel bad for," Dufner said. "I was in a great situation. It didn't work out. I've got a lot of good things going on with my profession and my life, so don't dwell on the negative things.
"It wasn't a negative experience for me. I feel like a lot of people feel like it was. But there's worse things to happen than losing in a playoff and finishing second in a major."
Dufner followed his performance at the PGA with a couple of missed cuts in his next two starts. But he seems back on track, having finished tied for sixth last week at the BMW Championship.
Bradley's back, too. The New Englander enjoyed the perks that came with winning a major -- he got to throw out the first pitch at his beloved Fenway Park, as well as meet his hero, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- but all the attention and demands on his time took its toll.
He missed the cut in the first two Playoffs events, but like Dufner, he performed better last week, finishing tied for 16th at Cog Hill.
"It's nice to kind of get back to playing golf again," he said.
Unlike Dufner, Bradley grew up putting on bent grass greens. But he said he feels more comfortable on Bermuda -- and as a recently relocated transplant to Florida, he'll get even more comfortable in the future.
"I love this grass," Bradley said. " ... There's just something that comes natural to me now for whatever reason."
But what about the connection with Dufner? Is there something specific about the two courses that bring out the best in their games?
"The greens are immaculate," Bradley said. "They're identical to Atlanta Athletic Club, and I think we both liked the look of that course.
"And this course is very similar."
Here's the weird part -- original home of the Atlanta Athletic Club was right here at East Lake. In fact, that was the name of the club that the legendary Bobby Jones grew up on.
But in the 1960s, the neighborhood around the course began to deteriorate, and the Atlanta Athletic Club members sold the course to developers and moved to its current home 26 miles north in Duluth. A group of 25 members then purchased the course and the clubhouse from developers and began operations as East Lake Country Club in 1968.
In essence, the Bradley-Dufner connection, which started at the new AAC five weeks ago, will now perform an encore at the old AAC on Friday.
So go ahead, say it now.