Back-with-a-bang Bradley in front

Barely a month after winning the PGA, Keegan Bradley has set himself up with a chance to win the FedEx Cup.

Barely a month after winning his first major at the US PGA Championship, American Keegan Bradley has set himself up with a chance to win the FedEx Cup.

And the American nephew of LPGA legend Pat Bradley did it by racing into a two-shot lead in Thursday’s opening round of the FedEx Cup finale, The Tour Championship, at the storied East Lake Golf Club with a stunning six-under 64.

On an overcast day with every chance of thunderstorms that never materialised – to the relief of the organisers – the 25-year-old rising star of US golf birdied four of the last seven holes as he stormed into a two-stroke lead ahead of World No 1 Luke Donald and Americans Chez Reavie and Jason Dufner in this limited field event for which only the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings qualified.

Two of Australia’s President Cup qualifiers, Adam Scott and Jason Day, are a shot further back with 67s in a five-way tie for fifth with three more Americans, Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and Charles Howell III.

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

“It was a great day out there, I hit a lot of really good shots and no real scary bad ones,” Bradley told the media afterwards.

“I just felt comfortable right from the start. I made (holed) 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 always easy.”

Dufner, who sparked his round of 66 with three birdies on the first four holes, said: “I played okay, scored really well,”

“Any time I was in trouble, I was able to make a par. Any time I hit a bad shot, I kind of dodged a tree here or dodged a tree there or had a good lie.”

Bradley, the first player ever 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 for the day

Landing the $10 million bonanza that goes with winning the FedEx Cup play-off series won’t be easy for Bradley, though.

To do that he’ll have to win the Tour Championship outright and hope that players ranked higher in the points standings finish poorly.

Bradley, who was in 20th place in the FedEx Cup standings when he teed off on Thursday, knows that if either of the top five on the standings, Webb Simpson, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Donald or Kuchar can automatically secure the FedEx trophy with victory in the Tour Championship on Sunday.

But coming back down to earth and finding some of the laser-like focus that earned him the PGA title, especially with his approach shots to the green, is quite a feat in his eyes and he was clearly thankful that he was able to shrug away everything that goes with winning a major and was able to focus once again on playing golf, pure and simple.

“I think that definitely is helpful,” he said.

“I can kind of escape a littler bit and just play golf for the first time in about a month while these guys, Webb Simpson and the other players, who are playing great golf, have been getting the attention (coming into the FedEx Cup). They deserve it.”

FedExCup points leader Simpson and Britain’s Rose, who moved into third position on the standings with his first victory of the year in last week’s BMW Championship, opened with what they might have perceived as disappointing 69s.

That has put them all of five shots off the pace heading into Friday’s second round and in a truly high class field like this one it has given them a pile of work to do if they are to play catch-up.

64 Keegan Bradley
66 Jason Dufner, Luke Donald (Eng), Chez Reavie
67 Hunter Mahan, Adam Scott (Aus), Matt Kuchar, Jason Day (Aus), Charles Howell III
68 Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson, Aaron Baddeley (Aus), Bill Haas, K J Choi (Kor), Brandt Snedeker