Bae stares down Bradley, breaks through on TOUR

Bae winner's interview after HP Byron Nelson

Following a final-round 69, Sang-Moon Bae reflects on his win at the HP Byron Nelson Championship with Fred Albers from SiriusXM PGA TOUR Radio.

May 19, 2013
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM

IRVING, Texas -- You might think the HP Byron Nelson Championship came down to a simple birdie putt at the par-5 16th hole from 3 feet, 11 inches, a putt that Keegan Bradley shockingly missed, a putt that horseshoed around the rim of the cup and spun out, breaking a tie with Sang-Moon Bae and sending the 26-year-old South Korean to his first PGA TOUR win Sunday.

But don't be fooled. That wasn't the only decisive shot on a windy, challenging Sunday at TPC Four Seasons Resort. And it was anything but simple.

Sure, go ahead and focus on it, if you want. You don't expect Bradley -- already a major winner, a huge rising star on TOUR, as clutch as they come in pressure situations -- to flinch from that length. Entering this week, Bradley has made 90.5 percent of his putts this year from 3-5 feet, ranking 22nd on TOUR in that category. In the heat of the battle, his percentage is probably higher.

So when Bradley missed, the look of disbelief on his face spoke volumes.

"I wouldn't have hit the putt any different," Bradley said. "It's surprising to miss like that."

Bae, who had expected to walk off the 16th hole tied but instead needed to protect a one-shot lead, knew he had received a rare gift.

"I was a little lucky," he said.

Bae, though, isn't giving himself enough credit. He had forced the situation by making his own birdie putt moments earlier from 5 feet, 3 inches along the same line as Bradley's putt. Not only did that move Bae to 13 under, Bradley now had to make his putt just to remain even. First in the hole is a basic tenet of match play golf, and with the Nelson reduced to a two-man show at this point, Bae had just delivered a short but big blow.

"It had boiled down to make-miss," said Bae's swing coach, Rick Smith. "For Moon to make that putt was pivotal. It put the pressure back on Keegan. With Moon making that putt first, Keegan had to make his."

Bae, in his second year on TOUR, answered the call with that putt. He answered the call many times on Sunday. He answered the call like a TOUR winner often needs to do, especially when faced with a gritty opponent like Bradley.

Thanks mostly to his course-record 60 on Thursday, Bradley had held the lead for 54 holes this week and entered the final round ahead by one shot over Bae. Of the two, Bradley obviously is the more decorated, having won a major and two other TOUR events, including this very tournament two years ago.

Apparently, that wasn't enough to intimidate Bae. He started out on fire, riding a hot putter to four birdies in his first seven holes. Meanwhile, Bradley suffered an early bogey and did well to keep the bleeding to a minimum, unable to counteract the wind issues that kept knocking down his shots. When they reached the ninth tee, Bae was 4 under on his round and four strokes in front.

"It looked like he was going to shoot 60," Smith said.

On PGA TOUR Radio, the announcers were praising Bae for "showing no signs of flinching."

On his next shot, he finally flinched.

Bae hit an errant drive at the par-4 ninth, then tried a little hook with his second shot from the trees and found the water. He double-bogeyed while Bradley rammed home a 14-1/2-foot par-saving putt. Bae said he lost focus on the hole. Suddenly, the lead was cut in half.

Then it was cut to one stroke on the next hole when Bae bogeyed after another poor tee shot and an approach into a greenside bunker. Bae still had the lead but he suddenly had swing issues, while Bradley had the momentum.

Bradley suffered a bogey at the 11th to drop two back, but at the 15th he produced his biggest putt of the day, a birdie from just inside 18 feet. Meanwhile, Bae missed a par-saving putt from 4 feet, 8 inches. The two-shot swing made them co-leaders.

It's at this point that Bae had every opportunity to disappear, the discouragement of blowing a four-shot lead overtaking his emotions and negatively infecting his swing. Plus, they were headed to the 16th, a hole that Bradley had birdied every day while Bae had birdied just once.

"When I made that putt on 15," Bradley said, "I was pretty confident that I was going to win the tournament."

But while you may not know much about Bae, know this -- he knows what it takes to win. He'd won 11 events on three different tours in Asia before joining the PGA TOUR. He won't back down when the stakes are raised.

So he makes the short birdie putt at 16. Then his chip shot at the par-3 17th is a beauty, leaving him with a tap-in par. Then at the treacherous 18th, he avoids water to the right, takes a very aggressive line to the pin that flew over the edge of the water and two-putts for the win.

"Going down 18, all I needed was Moon to hit one shot off line and I'm right in it," Bradley said. "But he hit a great drive and a spectacular second shot. ...

"I'm pretty disappointed (to lose) but Moon played very well. He played better than me today."

Smith loved the mental fortitude his student displayed, Bae's ability to match's Bradley grit with his own.

"It just proved what was in his heart," Smith said. "He went from looking like he was going to lose it" -- after the two-shot swing at 15 -- "to gaining it back again. He proved a lot to himself. He'll remember how he went right after Keegan.

"This is just the beginning of an incredible career for this young man. He's an amazing talent. He's an amazing kid."

And he's a TOUR winner. It's only his first one. You get the feeling there are more to come.