Bradley rockets into Tour Championship lead

ATLANTA (Reuters) – A month after winning his first major title, Keegan Bradley improved his odds of claiming FedExCup honours by charging into an early two-shot lead in yesterday’s opening round of the elite Tour Championship.

In overcast conditions with the threat of a thunderstorm, the 25-year-old American birdied four of the last seven holes for a sizzling six-under-par 64 on the challenging layout at East Lake Golf Club.

Bradley, who clinched last month’s PGA Championship at nearby Atlanta Athletic Club in a playoff with compatriot Jason Dufner, covered the back nine in four under to take control of the PGA Tour’s fourth and final playoff event.

“It was a good day out there, I just felt comfortable right from the start,” Bradley, a nephew of LPGA great and World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, told reporters.

“I made a bunker shot on the second hole which kind of got me calmed down. It just seemed to be easy today. When you play good golf, it’s easy.”

Dufner launched his round with three birdies in the first four holes to card a 66, ending the day a stroke in front of fellow Americans Charles Howell III and Hunter Mahan, plus Australian Adam Scott.  British world number one Luke Donald, bidding for a second PGA Tour victory this year, was among the late starters and was at three under with five holes to play. Bradley, the first player to win a major title with a long putter, made an explosive start to his round when he holed out from a greenside bunker to birdie the par-three second.

He picked up another shot at the seventh and, though he three-putted the eighth for his only bogey of the day, he collected five more birdies to set the pace in the elite field of 30.

For Bradley to land the season-long FedExCup and its $10 million bonus, he has to win the Tour Championship and hope that players ranked higher in the points standings finish poorly.

Bradley was 20th at the start of the week while any of the top five — Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Luke Donald and Matt Kuchar — would automatically secure the trophy with victory on Sunday.

After catapulting himself into the limelight with his PGA Championship victory just over four weeks ago, Bradley was thankful some of that focus had died down as the playoff series finale loomed large.

“I think that definitely is helpful,” he said. “The best part is the little separation I had from the PGA and that they are talking about that (the FedExCup).

“I can kind of escape that a little bit and just play golf for the first time in about a month. And these guys, Webb Simpson and the other players, are playing great golf. They deserve the attention.”

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