Following a season in which he has missed no fewer than 11 cuts and split with his long-time caddie, Keegan Bradley was relieved to be answering more positive questions after a fine 68 yesterday left him poised nicely at seven under par.
Despite the horror run, Bradley insists that he always felt his game was not in as bad a shape as the results suggested and explained: “It’s extra hard to play well and not see the scores, and that’s kind of what’s been happening to me over the last couple months.
“That’s actually harder than playing. Because everyone’s wondering. I always get the question, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ And there’s nothing wrong. I’m just working.
“I tell them, ‘I’m fine’. I’m enjoying the challenge of getting better.”
The 2011 PGA Champion – he was the first player to win his debut major since Ben Curtis’s Open in 2003 – has, however, appreciated the encouraging comments of some of the game’s greats
“I’ve had a lot of veteran players reach out to me, Hall of Famer-type guys, Phil [Mickelson], obviously, Ernie [Els] did, Freddy Couples and just everybody has just been great,” said the 30-year-old from Vermont.
“They’ve all said, ‘we all went through this at some point’. It was just a little dip and people freak out. It’s your job to enjoy the challenge of coming back.
“It’s amazing. Golf is so great because these guys have all reached out to me without me asking. It makes me feel good.”
Yesterday also made Bradley feel good as he weathered the back nine storm, rebounding impressively from bogeys at 11 and 12 with back-to-back birdies at 14 and 15.
“Today’s round was even better than yesterday [a 67] even though it was a shot higher,” he said. “It’s tough to know when you go out in the morning that it’s going to be hard. We knew going into it that it’s going to be rainy and windy, and it rained hard there for a while. So man, it was a great round.”
In the same group as Bradley, Sergio Garcia’s hopes for a long-awaited maiden major took a hit with a costly three-putt at the last.
The Spaniard headed down the 18th fairway at five under but came to grief on the final green and dropped a shot. He tried to remain optimistic afterwards, though.
“I’d love to be two or three shots better. There is no doubt about that,” he said. “But I’m sure everybody would too. I am happy where I am because I didn’t feel like I played that great the first two rounds and I’m still out there in the top ten with a shot at it.
“So hopefully I’ll keep improving as the weekend goes on, and hopefully I’ll have a chance on Sunday.
“It definitely was tougher today but I’m still happy with the round. I still don’t feel like I’m playing up to my standards. So I think it’s still a good score.”
Lurking two shots behind Bradley, also on five under, is defending champion Zach Johnson, who was frustrated after three bogeys on the back nine, including a second successive one on the last, slipped him back to five under with a 70.
That nevertheless keeps him well in contention to follow in the footsteps of Bobby Locke and Arnold Palmer by defending the title at Troon.
“I really had a great opportunity today to put a nice low number up. I feel like I gave a few back there at the end,” said the 2015 champion. “I actually hit a good tee shot on 15 and still made a bogey. You know, at 16 I am essentially trying to make a four, and I barely make a five. And 18 was bad, too. Sour there, sour endings as far as where I put myself there.
“But there are certainly some positives. I feel like the best thing going for me right now is I haven’t played my best yet and I can still go out and do that this weekend.”
Johnson felt that by teeing off at 9:14am he just missed out on the best window of opportunity in terms of conditions.
“If you teed off especially early, in that 6:30 to 9:00 range, you had two and a half hours at least, almost three and a half hours almost uninterrupted,” he said.
“We still had an opportunity considering that our first four or five holes was pretty benign. We had a couple holes that were tough and then it slowed down again. But it felt like there were five, six holes where it was just trying to keep one foot in front of the other and staying vertical. But that’s what you expect.”
Johnson may reside in sultry Georgia now but having grown up and attended college in Iowa, the conditions faced yesterday don’t come as a complete culture shock.
“Where I grew up it’s not exactly ideal a lot of the time,” he said. “The college golf I played, some of the amateur golf I played was not exactly ideal conditions. Then without question I’ve learned to appreciate it and respect and embrace it just by playing in multiple Opens.
“I don’t know if I’m a mudder, per se, but it’s kind of the mentality you have to have over here, just go out there and mud it.”