It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t without its shaky moments, but Keegan Bradley did just enough to take the lead and held on to notch his fifth career PGA Tour title at the Zozo Championship.
The 36-year-old former PGA Championship winner shot 2-under 68 on Sunday at Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan, to edge Rickie Fowler and Andrew Putnam by one stroke.
Bradley, who began the day a stroke behind Fowler, moved to top of the leaderboard by canning a downhill 40-foot birdie putt at the par-3 fifth and marking another circle on the card at the par-5 sixth.
He stretched the lead to two two when he drained a 25-foot birdie putt at 11 and pumped his right fist. He looked in control until he made a sloppy bogey at the par-5 14 th. Though he saved par at 15 with a 10-foot putt and clenched his fist, Bradley clearly was leaking oil and one hole later he coughed up the solo lead with his second bogey in his last three holes. Putnam (68) was tied for the lead at 14 under until he made bogey at 17 and Bradley made birdie to regain a two-stroke lead heading to the last.
“That was one of the best holes in my life,” said Bradley, of his birdie at 17.
He signed for a 72-hole total of 15-under 265.
Bradley, who struggled for a time when the belly putter that he used to great effect was banned by the USGA, entered the week at No. 44 in the world, but he hadn’t visited the winner’s circle since the 2018 BMW Championship, a total of 1,498 days. That was actually a longer wait without hoisting a trophy than Fowler, who was seeking his first win since the 2019 WM Phoenix Open. It wasn’t to be for Fowler, who never looked comfortable with his ball striking in the final round and closed in even-par 70.
The adrenaline rush of victory still was coursing through Bradley’s veins as he started to look ahead to what this win could mean for him in the future. “I feel like I should be contending for tournaments, I want to be contending to play on Ryder Cup, Presidents Cups teams, majors,” he said. “You know, this is going to go a long way.”
Fowler’s winless drought will continue but his prolonged slump appears to be over. Fowler has recorded two top-10 finishes in three starts in the 2022-23 season – the other being a T-6 at the Fortinet Championship – since reuniting with former swing instructor Butch Harmon, making equipment changes and a caddie change too. (He had only three top 10’s in the previous 30 months.)
“We’re building momentum and building more confidence,” Fowler said after shooting 70 on Sunday. “I feel like in the last few years there would be times where kind of take a step forward and just was never really able to build more momentum than for one week at a time.”
Fowler entered the final round with a one-stroke lead, but made bogey at the first and never looked comfortable with his swing. He trailed Bradley by two through six holes of the final round and while he hung in there to the end, it was evident he lacked the same confidence in his swing that had him ranked first in the field in birdies with 19 through three rounds. Fowler managed only one birdie in his first 17 holes on Sunday (at No. 7) before sinking a birdie at the last.
Throughout the round, Fowler lost several shots to the right. “It’s a hint of a lack of belief that you have the club in the right spot and you can deliver it correctly,” said Golf Channel analyst Craig Perks.
On the bright side, Fowler secured his best finish since a T-3 at the CJ Cup a year ago and already has earned more FedEx Cup points this season through three starts than he did in the entire 2021-22 regular season. But he fell to two of nine converting solo or co-leads after 54 holes and 1 of 11 with the 36-hole lead. It marked the 15th time Fowler has settled for runner-up in 299 Tour starts.
“Kind of bittersweet,” Fowler said. “I hit some darn good putts that it was like there was a cover over the hole. Gave it our all, left it all out there. Big congrats to Keegan, he made the putts, I didn’t. He earned it. But definitely excited about having a couple good finishes to start the season and a lot of good stuff coming.”