published Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Steele, Bradley in hunt at PGA

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- The direct path from Black Creek Club to the Atlanta Athletic Club is 130 miles.

But PGA Championship co-leader Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley -- who is one shot back -- mark the 2010 Chattanooga Classic as a defining moment in their fledgling careers in which they could be one day away from winning the year's final major.

"With about seven holes to go, I told my caddie, 'We can make a big push here and get my PGA Tour card so we have to decide how aggressive we're going to be,'" Steele said of the final round last fall. "We decided to be pretty aggressive and we thought we might even get into a playoff."

Steele finished fourth in the Chattanooga Classic and Bradley tied for fifth. Steele then went on to win the Nationwide Tour championship event, which secured his tour card. Then he won the Valero Texas Open earlier this year. Bradley earned his promotion to the PGA Tour and won the Byron Nelson championship earlier this year.

"Chattanooga is an experience I drew on for the tour championship the Valero this year," Steele said. "And it's something I'll draw on tomorrow."

Steele is tied with Jason Dufner for the PGA Championship lead at 7 under par. Bradley is at 6 under. Scott Verplank is 5 under and first-round leader Steve Stricker is at 4 under.

Bradley recalled being paired with Steele in the Classic last fall and forging a friendship that now has them regularly playing practice rounds together.

"That was the first time we got to know each other and now I love playing with Steele," Bradley said. "If we would have said we'd be in a couple of the final groups on Sunday at the PGA I think we both would have laughed at each other."

Casual golf fans are laughing at the leaderboard. Even fans watching action on the 18th green were asking, 'Who's that?" as golfers walked between a green railing and pond.

There is only one major championship trophy on the fireplace of the top 19 golfers on the leaderboard and that belongs to 2003 U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk who is tied for 13th place at 1 under.

Furyk was six under for the tournament and coming off back-to-back birdies when he stepped to the 14th tee. He made a bogey. Then he double-bogeyed No. 15. And he closed with a double-bogey on No. 18 by losing two shots in the water.

"It just shows how deep the PGA Tour is and the European Tour and the tours across the world because this is kind of a world championship," Steele said. "I think it shows the depth and how good guys are these days. You've got younger guys and older guys and guys in the middle and everybody is playing at a high level."

Lurking outside the top five are Anders Hansen and D.A. Points at 3 under. David Toms, who won the 2001 PGA Championship here, Masters champion Charl Schwartzel, Robert Karlsson, Adam Scott and John Senden are five shots behind the leaders.

Dufner, Steele and Bradley have never been in position to win a major heading into the final round. In fact, Steele and Bradley are playing in their first majors and Dufner is playing his third.

"It might make me a little more relaxed knowing that everybody is kind of in the same boat struggling with those emotions and thoughts and the mentality of trying to win a major," Dufner said. "But I feel like if you're playing good, you should be confident and obviously I've been playing really well for these three rounds."

If nothing else, Bradley and Steele can think back to an autumn afternoon last year at Black Creek Club which helped launch them to the top of the PGA Championship leaderboard.

"This is a little different," Bradley said, "but I'm going to treat it the same way."

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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