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93d PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Moving daze

Hopkinton’s Bradley surges to tie for PGA lead; flailing Woods bottoms out

Keegan Bradley shot 64 and celebrated with a Tiger-like fist pump. Keegan Bradley shot 64 and celebrated with a Tiger-like fist pump. (Hans Deryk/ Reuters)
By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / August 13, 2011

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - Keegan Bradley definitely knows who Francis Ouimet is, and competes against Ben Curtis. He might be two solid rounds from joining them in one of golf’s most exclusive fraternities.

The Hopkinton High School graduate and PGA Tour rookie shot a 6-under-par, bogey-free 64 yesterday at Atlanta Athletic Club, the day’s best score. It left Bradley at 5 under through two rounds of the 93d PGA Championship, tied with Jason Dufner (65) for the lead, with Jim Furyk (65), D.A. Points (67), John Senden (68), and Scott Verplank (69) one shot behind.

Two days in, Bradley, the son of a PGA club professional, is trying to become the first player to win his major championship debut since Curtis (2003 British Open), who was the first since Ouimet triumphed across the street from his Brookline house at The Country Club in the 1913 US Open.

“We get some great opportunities out here to do something great,’’ said Bradley, whose father, Mark, is the head professional at Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club in Wyoming. “Somebody’s got to [win a major in their debut], I’d love for it to be me. Every time I put myself in this position, I make myself a better player.’’

He’s been plenty good enough so far, something Tiger Woods can’t say. Woods shot 73, and at 10 over par played his way into a three-month competitive break, denied a spot in the PGA Tour playoffs because he won’t be high enough on the points list. First-round leader Steve Stricker also struggled, shooting 74 and dropping into a four-player pack at 3 under, tied for seventh. With names like Bradley and Dufner at the top, it’s a leaderboard devoid of much star power. Among the top 10, only Furyk (2003 US Open) has won a major championship.

Maybe the lack of golf’s stars up near the lead has allowed those who currently sit there to play with a little less pressure. Bradley put some stock in that theory.

“I think it’s about getting comfortable out here,’’ he said. “I feel great. I mean, I know it’s a Friday and not a Sunday, but I feel great, and as long as I’m having fun, it seems like I shoot good numbers.’’

Bradley, playing in front of family - mom Kaye, sister Madison, and nephew Aiden made the trip down from Newburyport - admitted to letting the lowest number creep into his mind. After making birdies on Nos. 10 (he began on the back nine), 12, and 14, he made the turn and added another on the first hole, a slippery downhiller from 8 feet. Two more birdies, a 10-footer on No. 6 and a curling 30-footer on No. 7, pushed Bradley to 6-under. When he was studying an 8-footer for a third straight birdie on No. 8, he thought about shooting an 8-under 62, which would have been the lowest score in major championship history.

“I’m thinking, ‘Boy, if I could make this, 9 is a birdie hole, I’ve got a shot at this.’ It crossed my mind, which is probably a bad thing, because I missed it,’’ said Bradley, 25, who won the Byron Nelson Championship in May. “It was a relaxing atmosphere. It didn’t feel like a major, to be honest. But I did think about it, and I would have loved to have done it.’’

Instead, he missed the birdie putt on the eighth, and then saved par from a greenside bunker on the ninth, making a 10-footer which he called the biggest putt in his round.

In his first major, Bradley will be in the last group today, paired with Dufner, who came into the PGA having missed his last four cuts. He might not have a PGA Tour victory like Bradley does, but he has experience near the lead in this tournament, having tied for fifth in his debut last year.

“I wouldn’t say that I expected to be 5-under after two days, but I felt like I could have a chance if I played fairly well,’’ said Dufner, who birdied No. 9, his final hole, to earn his spot in the last twosome. “There always seems to be a couple of guys in majors that surprise people.’’

Dufner, Points, Senden, Anders Hansen, Brendan Steele, and Brandt Jobe certainly qualify as surprises. Bradley, too, if only because he’s never been in this situation before.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a surprise that I was up here,’’ he said. “But I work very hard, and this is what I’ve been looking forward to doing my whole life, so it’s as comfortable as I can be.’’

When Bradley finished his round, he began the gauntlet of media stops: Sky Sports, PGA Tour Radio Network, TNT. It was interrupted when Woods came out of the adjacent scoring trailer and was whisked to a podium for his post-round interview, followed by a horde of media. No more than 20 feet away, Woods spoke about what went wrong this week, while Bradley stood silent, patiently waiting for his live TV interview.

One man was heading home, trying to find his way out of a fog that seems to be getting only thicker. The other man was heading on, tied for the lead halfway through his very first major. The fact that almost everybody was more concerned with what Woods was saying hardly bothered Bradley. He likes where he stands, excited about the weekend.

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.