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Playing In His First Major Championship, Keegan Bradley Pulls Off Improbable PGA Win

PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley pulled off an improbable win Sunday in the final round of the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club. He is only the third player to win a major golf championship in his first appearance.

Keegan Bradley, winner of the 2011 PGA Championship
Keegan Bradley, winner of the 2011 PGA Championship

Being five strokes down with three holes to play is not going to win you many tournaments, and especially so in one of professional golf's four major championships.

That's where 25-year-old PGA rookie stood after blowing up at the 15th hole on Sunday at the Atlanta Athletic Club in the 93rd PGA Championship. Bradley encountered all kinds of trouble on the long, 259-yard par 3 and ended up with a triple-bogey six on the hole. Jason Dufner, himself a relative unknown on the PGA Tour, was the tournament leader at the time and stood at the 15th tee box with what seemed like an insurmountable five-shot lead with just four more holes to go to capture his third PGA win and first major championship. So close, but yet so far, as it turned out.

Little did Dufner realize at the time that the 15th hole on the final day at the Atlanta Athletic Club would prove to be the beginning of the end in his quest for the PGA Championship, which he almost unbelievably ended up losing to Bradley in a three-hole playoff. Dufner, 34, and winner of two PGA tour events in his career, bogeyed the 15th after hitting his tee shot in the water. That still left him with a comfortable four-stroke lead as he walked to the 16th tee. But he finished the final three holes at bogey-bogey-par, while Bradley reached down deep and found new life, going birdie-birdie-par over the same three holes to tie Dufner, the third-round leader, at eight-under 208 and force a playoff.

The two players, who coming into this year's PGA Championship ranked 108th (Bradley) and 80th (Dufner) in the World Golf Rankings, went back to holes 16, 17 and 18 for the three-hole playoff. Bradley birdied the first playoff hole, which Dufner pared. But Dufner ran into trouble on the second playoff hole and took a bogey, while Bradley pared the hole. Dufner birdied the final hole to finish with a cumulative playoff score of even par. Bradley rolled in a clutch par putt in his final playoff hole to finish at one-under and complete his improbable run to the Championship and his second PGA career win.

"I can't believe it," said the youthful-looking Bradley, who is the nephew of LPGA Hall of Famer Pat Bradley. "I was nervous, believe me. It's been a dream of mine since I can remember, and I can't believe it's coming true," he saidDufner's second-place finish, although a big disappointment to the 34-year-old pro from Auburn, Ala., was his highest finish by far in a golf major. His previous best was a tie for 30th in the 2010 Masters.

Anders Hansen from Denmark finished third with a four-round score of seven-under 273, just a shot back of Bradley and Dufner. Robert Karlsson of Sweden was fourth at five-under 275, tied with David Toms, who shot a three-under 67 on Sunday to go along with a 65 on Saturday.

Bradley, who entered the final round on Sunday just a shot back of Dufner, became the third player in history to win in his first major championship appearance. The win qualifies him for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf, along with Masters champion Charles Schwartzel, U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, winner of The Open Championship.

Ten of the last 12 major championship winners have been first-time winners. Sunday's playoff was the fourth in the PGA Championship since 2000 and the second in as many years. German Martin Kaymer defeated Bubba Watson from the U.S. in a three-hole playoff a year ago at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis.

American Steve Stricker, the leader after the opening round, fell back to 12th, shooting a final-round score of three-over 73. Former University of Kansas golfer and Topeka resident Gary Woodland broke par on the final day with a two-under round of 68 to go with earlier rounds of 70-70-71 to finish in a tie for 12th.