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Keegan Bradley will be the big local favorite in the final round

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BROOKLINE, Mass. — Keegan Bradley was in his element. He was in a place he had always dreamed of being since he was a sports-addicted kid growing up in Vermont.

He was at home plate at Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox.

He was on the hardwood floor of the Boston Garden playing for the Celtics.

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I was at Gillette Stadium on a Sunday in a Patriots uniform.

Bradley was in all of those places at once as he walked down the 18th fairway at The Country Club late Saturday afternoon, about to close out his US Open third round with the crowd packing the ropes around the green chanting: Keegan, Keegan, Keegan.”

Bradley, who shot a second straight 1-under 69 on Saturday to reach 2-under in the tournament and just two shots shy of the lead from Will Zalatoris and Matthew Fitzpatrick, had moved into contention to win his prized home game in US Open.

Shortly after he finished playing, the echoes of those “Keegan, Keegan, Keegan” chants still rang, like beautiful music, in his ears.

“Honestly, it was one of the most amazing moments of my entire life,” Bradley said emotionally afterward. “I was able to feel what it feels like to play at Fenway, to play at the Garden, to play at Gillette Stadium. I felt like a Boston player there. That was a moment I will never forget for the rest of my life, and I thank the fans for giving it to me, and I hope they will cheer me on again. [Sunday].”

Keegan Bradley hits a shot on the fifth hole during the third round of the US Open.
Keegan Bradley hits a shot on the fifth hole during the third round of the US Open.
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Bradley closing the deal and capturing US Open 122 less than three hours from where he grew up would be epic.

“As a kid, I dreamed of playing in front of the Boston fans and being a Patriot or being in the Garden,” Bradley said. “Most of the time I am playing around the world or in the country, and I am alone. Here today, I felt like I was at a home game, which is something that when I was a kid… it’s a dream.”

Frank Darby, who coached Bradley when he played college golf at St. John’s, watched him from his Connecticut home on Saturday and recognized exactly what he had seen all those years in Queens: a tenacious, fearless player who thrives in tough situations. . Conditions The Country Club delivered on the third day, with falling temperatures and whipping winds.

“He’s a sports junkie who feeds off all that stuff,” Darby told The Post by phone. “He is not afraid. He is passionate about everything. The only thing that has helped him are these great players that he has been with: [Tom] Brady, he’s close to Michael Jordan, he’s close to Jack Nicklaus, he lives in the Nicklaus club. [in Florida]. He feeds off all these great players, because he wants to be like them.”

Keegan Bradley gets his face pumped while playing the 18th bracket in the third round of the US Open.
Keegan Bradley gets his face pumped while playing the 18th bracket in the third round of the US Open.
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Success came early for Bradley, who won the PGA Championship in 2011, his first year on the PGA Tour, and was named Rookie of the Year for it. That win earned him status at all the major events, quickly propelling him up to the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams (in which he thrived).

Then the exhausting mind-twist of golf and life took hold of him for several years and his game was lost in the wild. Suddenly, Bradley was no longer automatically in the big leagues and on the red carpet at the team event.

It ate at him, made him realize that he had taken these things for granted, because they came to him so quickly.

From 2012 to 2018, he went 165 tournaments without a win before ending the drought with a win at the BMW Championship. His form has improved since then and his world ranking has returned to 47th.

It’s possible that the pressure Bradley put on himself to simply walk onto the field for this US Open was greater than it had been in the past three days while playing in the tournament.

“I saw it was on the schedule and the first thought is, ‘Oh man, I have to play, now this has gotten stressful,'” he said.

As he bogeyed Nos. 2, 3 and 6 on Saturday, Bradley’s dream of winning the US Open at home was slipping away. He had 3 more and Scottie Scheffler, the world number 1, was down to 6 under par and looked ready to run.

Bradley came from behind with birdies at numbers 8 and 9, and that changed everything.

“I made this putt on the 9 and the crowd went crazy,” he said. “It really gave me a jolt of energy. I felt it. I could feel it go. I could feel the energy shift. He set me on my way to, ‘Okay, we’re not trying to save this round anymore. Let’s try to enter contention here. And I did that.”

Now what? Is there a more magical day in store for the hometown kid?

“Tomorrow is going to be a tough day,” Bradley said. “I know that. It just is. It would be if I was playing in Tulsa. But playing here is going to be intense, but I’ve had a weird sense of calm come over me this week. I don’t know if that’s going to be here tomorrow or not.”

If so, then Bradley will really have his Tom Brady, Roger Clemens and Larry Bird moment.

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