By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM Chief of Correspondents
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. -- Keegan Bradley has seen people sneaking a peek at their pairing sheets as he walks down the fairway at the Atlanta Athletic Club this week. Others who were less prepared might be straining to catch a glimpse of the name embroidered on his golf bag.
"And the worst one is when you sign an autograph and the kid looks at you and asks you what your name is," Bradley said with a grin. "... I've gotten that a bunch of times this week."
Those autographs might be worth something someday, though -- particularly if Bradley should go on to win the PGA Championship this weekend. And he'll be a lot easier to identify on Saturday afternoon, teeing off in the final group with Jason Dufner at 3:00 p.m., the two owning a share of the lead at 5 under.
Bradley knows his presence at the top of the leaderboard is a bit of a stunner. He might have won a PGA TOUR event earlier this year, but Bradley's a rookie, for goodness sakes, and he's playing in his very first major championship this week.
And make no mistake, the enthusiastic 25-year-old is having the time of his life.
"It's always so much fun to be out here," Bradley said. "I'm finishing up and Tiger is finishing, I'm teeing off, Tiger is on 1. He's one of my idols. It's cool to look around and see all these guys that I've looked up to my whole life and able to be peers with them and compete at the highest level with them."
Imagine, then, the K.B. cool factor if Bradley should be the one hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday. He'd be the first player since Ben Curtis at the 2003 British Open to win in his first major start. Not to mention, he's the son of a PGA Professional and the nephew of World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, so it's hard to imagine a better Cinderfella story.
"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a surprise that I was up here," Bradley acknowledged. "But I work very hard, and this is what I've been looking forward to doing my whole life."
Dufner has a little more experience than Bradley, but his name recognition, or relative lack of it, is much the same. He's 34 and he's still looking for his first victory in his sixth season on TOUR. He came close earlier this year, losing in a playoff to Mark Wilson at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, but arrived at the Atlanta Athletic Club to practice last Friday on the heels of four missed cuts.
Dufner also gained some valuable experience a year ago at Whistling Straits, where he tied for fifth, marking his only top-10 finish in 10 major apppearances. But he's realistic enough to know that there will be people wondering "Jason who?" when they pick up their morning newspapers and look at the scores.
Those fans likely won't know D.A. Points, either, even though he broke through and won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am in February. Ditto for the Aussie veteran John Senden, who is tied with Points Jim Furyk and Scott Verplank, one stroke off the lead.
But Dufner, who shot 65 in the second round, would be glad to clue those fans in.
"I would say to them that there's a lot of good guys out here," Dufner said. "... The networks and the media maybe focus on bigger names for a reason. That's who people want to see. People want to see Tiger Woods, people want to see Phil Mickelson. But there's other guys that can really, really play golf out here and that are really good that you've never heard of."
These guys are good, indeed. Bradley is one of six rookies and 11 first-time winners on TOUR this year. And Dufner came close to making that an even dozen in Phoenix, too. Shoot, even Woods and Mickelson, Bradley's frequent practice-round partner, had to start somewhere.
"I don't think the average golf fan realizes how competitive it is to be on the PGA TOUR, keep your card, win tournaments," Dufner said. "It's just not an easy thing, and for guys that you've never heard of to do it, that shows you how deep the fields are and how deep the events can be."
Bradley might have gained an even bigger share of the spotlight, too, if he had been able to convert that 10-footer on the eighth hole, his 17th of the day. He knew it would have put him 7 under with one hole remaining. He knew he had a shot -- literally, as well as figuratively -- at the lowest score in major championship history.
"I probably shouldn't say this, but it did (cross my mind)," Bradley, who settled for a 64, said in complete candor. "... I'm thinking, boy, if I could make this, 9 is a birdie hole, I've got a shot at this. That's probably about the worst thing I could have thought of at the time."
Not that anyone would have been there to see history made. That is, except for Bradley's mother, his sister and his baby nephew Aiden Keegan -- "We call him AK," Bradley said proudly -- who always seems to keep his uncle smiling.
"I made the turn ... and I'm near the lead, and there's nobody out there because I'm on the wrong side," he recalled. "It felt like a Hooters Tour event. It was great. It was a relaxing atmosphere. It didn't feel like a major, to be honest with you. But I did think about (shooting 62), and I would have loved to have done it, but that's all right."
Bradley and Dufner have much bigger goals this weekend and the spotlight will be more intense. And who knows? Maybe Aunt Pat will be there, too. "You never know when she's going to pop up," Bradley said with a smile, clearly enjoying the moment, just as he should be.