Keegan Bradley Survives A Shaky Back Nine to Win ZOZO Championship by One Stroke
The American made a clutch birdie on No. 17 to take a two-stroke lead to the final hole at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club.
INZAI, Chiba Pref. ― American Keegan Bradley survived a shaky back nine on Sunday, October 16 to win the ZOZO Championship by one stroke over compatriots Rickie Fowler and Andrew Putnam for his first PGA Tour win in just over four years.
Bradley had two bogeys after the turn at the Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club, but came up big with a clutch birdie on the par-4 17th that gave him a two-stroke lead heading to the final hole.
"It's not going to be easy," said Bradley, who finished with a 2-under 68 for a 15-under total of 265. "I knew it wasn't going to be easy."
On the 18th, Bradley's approach landed six feet from the hole and he two-putted for the victory after Fowler (70) and Putnam (68) both sank birdie putts to pull within one stroke.
But the real drama came on No. 17.
Overnight leader Fowler came within six inches of making birdie with a long putt. Had he made that, it might have been a different story.
But Bradley made a long birdie putt of his own to open up a two-stroke lead over Fowler and Putnam, who bogeyed the 17th.
Bradley called that putt one of the best of his life and it was the reason he won his fifth title and first since the BMW Championship in 2018.
"That birdie on 17 goes down as one of the best holes of my life," Bradley said. "This is so special. I played in the final group here when Tiger [Woods] won [in 2019] and I got to watch him do that. I'm so proud to win this tournament."
The 36-year-old Bradley won the PGA Championship in 2011 and said his win in Japan was right up there with that.
"This [victory] is high up there," an emotional Bradley said. "I really put a lot of work in during this offseason and this is what I want to do. I want to win tournaments."
Missed Putts Prove Costly for Fowler
Fowler had his chances to win for the first time since the 2019 WM Phoenix Open but his putter deserted him down the stretch.
"Kind of bittersweet," Fowler said. "Obviously [I] wanted to get the job done and I felt very good going into today. Felt, you know, probably as good as you can feel out there."
"Final round, haven't been there a whole lot in the last couple years," Fowler added. "Really just didn't give myself many opportunities until the end."
He missed an easy birdie putt on the 16th and a four-foot par putt on No. 15 where he took his second bogey of the day.
Bradley bogeyed the par-5 14th which allowed Fowler to pull within one stroke. Bradley was in danger of two straight bogeys but made a clutch par putt on No. 15 to preserve his one-stroke lead.
Fowler had a one-stroke lead heading into the final round, but it was fairly obvious from early on that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park for the 33-year-old.
He bogeyed the par-3 third after his tee shot landed in front of the green. He then chipped on and two-putted.
Bradley took a two-stroke lead with back-to-back birdies on Nos. 5 and 6 and widened it to three with another birdie on the 11th hole.
Matsuyama Finishes in 40th Place
Defending champion Hideki Matsuyama offset three bogeys with a pair of birdies for a 71 to finish tied for 40th.
It was a frustrating four days for the 2021 Masters champion who came in with hopes of defending his title but he never caught fire.
He opened with a 71 on Thursday and followed that with two relatively modest rounds of 69 and 66 to finish at 3-under 277.
Keita Nakajima, who was making his PGA Tour debut as a pro, shot a final-round 69 that included two birdies and a bogey to finish tied for 12th at 9-under 271 with compatriot Ryo Hisatsune (71).
"I was able to play under good pressure," Nakajima said. "And I got more excited on the back nine with my adrenaline running. Even though I didn't quite get into contention, this week has been a valuable experience for me."
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles here.