When the ball landed on the front edge of the green fronted by water, he bent his knees and leaned backward obviously relieved. He was only a few shots away from his first PGA Tour victory and a congratulatory hug from the widow of the tournament’s namesake.
After squandering a four-stroke lead in the final round, the 26-year-old South Korean beat Keegan Bradley by two stokes for a win in the United States to go with his 11 international victories on the Korea, Japan and Asian tours
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed of, winning on the PGA Tour,” Bae said. “It was surreal to have Mrs. (Peggy) Nelson there and with all the history ... I was in awe, actually, so almost I didn’t know how to react. “
Bae finished at 13-under 267 with a closing 1-under 69 on a day with wind gusting to near 40 mph at times, similar to conditions two years ago when Bradley got his first PGA Tour win at TPC Four Seasons. Bradley shot 72 this time.
Four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the front nine gave Bae a four-stroke advantage in the final group. But he made double bogey at No. 9 and a bogey at the next hole.
After some nice par saves, Bradley finally got even with a birdie at the 15th hole, a 17-footer that had just enough to get into the cup. But he missed a short birdie putt at the next hole to fall behind for good.
“When my iron play came back in the latter part of the round, I had confidence,” Bae said. “On that shot on 17, I knew it was short, and the wind pushed it over to the right, and I was happy and relieved that it turned out OK.”
Bradley was trying to become the Nelson’s first wire-to-wire winner since Tom Watson in 1980. Bradley set the course record with an opening 60 even with two bogeys.
“I’m pretty disappointed but Moon played very well,” Bradley said. ‘I just didn’t play great today, but I hung in there. I chipped away. ... When I made that putt on 15, I was pretty confident that I was going to win.”
Charl Schwartzel, the 2011 Masters champ, shot 68 to finish third at 10 under. Justin Bolli shot a bogey-free 65 for the best round of the day and matched his career-best finish of fourth. A stroke further back at 272 were Morgan Hoffmann (66), Martin Kaymer (68) and Scott Piercy (72).
Bae won $1.2 million, nearly matching his PGA Tour career earnings of $1.6 million in his 42 previous starts. He tied for second last year in the Transitions Championship after getting into a four-man playoff. His is the fourth South Korean-born player to win on the PGA Tour, joining K.J. Choi, Y.E. Yang and Kevin Na.
Bradley’s birdie at 15 was the only one he made all day. It gave him a share of the lead when Bae missed a par putt there from just inside 6 feet.
But after Bae sank a 5-foot birdie at the par-5 16th hole, Bradley had a shorter putt on the same line - it horseshoed around the hole and didn’t fall. He then hit his tee shot at the 171-yard 17th over the green.
“I hit that right down my line, right perfect,” Bradley said. “ I just hit it too good. I ripped it through the wind.”
That made it irrelevant that he finally had a par at No. 18, the hole he bogeyed the first three rounds. Especially when Bae’s final drive into the middle of the fairway.
Players wore red ribbons during the final round in memory of Ken Venturi, the 1964 U.S. Open champion and longtime CBS golf analyst who died Friday.
With the gusty winds and dried-out greens, the scoring average was 71.8 on Sunday. That was two strokes higher than Thursday’s first round, after 1½ inches of rain. Players were able to lift, clean and place their balls the first two days.
“Feels a little like the British Open without rain,” Kaymer said about the conditions Sunday.
At No. 14, Bradley drove into the left rough between some trees and missed the green before chipping to 5 feet to save par. On the par 3 just before that, his tee shot settled behind the green, but he hit from there to 8 feet and made that putt as well.
Bradley scrambled for pars on the first two holes, and gave up the lead at the 502-yard third hole when his drive went left into the water. He bogeyed and Bae rolled in a 27-foot birdie putt.
Bae was 16 under and four strokes ahead after three consecutive birdies, on the fifth through seventh holes.