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JACKSON, Miss. – Pardon Keegan Bradley for thinking that grits were potatoes. He may be a New England native who played his college golf not far from New York City at St. John’s University, but other than that snafu, he’s blending in quite well in his debut performance at the Sanderson Farms Championship.
“I thought grits were potatoes,” he said. “I guess they’re corn. But growing up in the Northeast I loved playing on Bermudagrass. I like it more than Bent, which I grew up on. I love this grass out here.”
And the weather has a whiff of fall in New England in the air – temps just eking into the 70s, sunshine and no humidity and a cool breeze. It has put Bradley at ease.
“It felt like I was home playing with my buddies,” he said. “I felt just so comfortable over every shot, and this course really fits what I’m doing with my game.”
What he’s doing is making birdies in threes. Twice in the second round at the Country Club of Jackson Bradley strung together three birdies in a row – once on each nine – and signed for 7-under 65 to improve to 13-under 131 and a two-stroke lead over Charley Hoffman and J.T. Poston at the tournament’s halfway point. It marks the sixth time that Bradley has held or shared the 36-hole.
“The greens are small, but if you can find the fairway you can attack it,” Bradley said.
He’s done just that, ripping long drives and peppering the flagsticks like he did when he won the 2011 PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. But Bradley, 34, hasn’t recorded a top-10 finish since a runner-up performance at last year’s Travelers Championship. He had missed the cut in both events he played this season (Safeway Open and the U.S. Open) and entered the week ranked No. 112 in the world. Bradley has an impressive track record in his debut at tournaments. Call it beginners luck, but Bradley has seven top-10 finishes, including two wins in his first go-round.
“Wow, that’s nice,” he said when told of this stat, and after pausing to give some thought to why this has been the case, he mustered up the following explanation: “There’s no memories on any hole, good or bad.”
Bradley is building up an inventory of positive memories this week on the greens. Having struggled with his putter ever since his trusty belly putter was banned by the U.S. Golf Association in 2016, Bradley has holed more than 200 feet of putts so far and ranks No. 2 in Strokes Gained: Putting this week (+6.629). He drained a 20-foot eagle putt at No. 11 on Thursday that signaled his putter might be more friend than foe.
“It was an up-and-over kind of putt where the speed was difficult to manage, and I just hit a perfect putt right in the middle. I remember thinking, wow, that felt nice. Let’s just keep that going,” Bradley said. “I feel like even the putts that I’m missing, that I’ve missed, are right where I want them, where the read might have been off or the speed just barely. I haven’t hit any putts yet that are poor putts, mis-hits or whatever that is, so that’s a good sign.”
Bradley will face stiff competition over the weekend. The veteran Hoffman has made the most birdies in the field through 36 holes with 16, while Poston’s lone bogey came on his opening Friday before reeling off six birdies, including five in a six-hole stretch beginning at No. 10. One stroke farther back is Monday qualifier MJ Daffue who is trying to go from the last man to make the field via an 8-for-2 playoff to the last man standing;
Kristoffer Ventura, a teammate of Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff at Oklahoma State, represents the Tour’s youth movement this week; and a couple of old pros at sneaking up from the pack – Brandt Snedeker and Sergio Garcia – are lurking five back. Bradley hasn’t won since the 2018 BMW Championship, which just so happens to be the last time he says he putted this well.
“I really look forward to these times,” Bradley said, “and obviously we’re only halfway through the tournament. It’s not a big deal yet, but hopefully I can put myself here coming down the end on Sunday.”
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