The bogeys on the closing hole at TPC Four Seasons haven’t cost him the lead yet.
Bradley overcame consecutive bogeys early and bogeyed No. 18 for the third round in a row Saturday to finish with a 2-under 68 that kept him in the lead.
“(Today) is the day. Right down the middle,” Bradley said about that last hole. “I’m due!”
Bradley’s 13-under 197 total gave him a one-stroke lead over Sang-Moon Bae, who had his third consecutive 66. Tom Gillis was two strokes back after a 67.
After going way right off the tee at No. 18 the first two rounds, Bradley smashed his drive Saturday down the left side toward the water. The ball stayed dry, but settled behind a large rock and forced him to punch back into the fairway. His approach settled on the front edge of the green and he almost saved par — the ball rolled just over the lip of the cup.
“I thought I made the putt, which would have been exciting,” he said. “But 5 on that hole from where I hit it off the tee is a pretty good score.”
Today, Bradley will be trying to win at TPC Four Seasons for the second time in three years. He could also become the Nelson’s first wire-to-wire winner since Tom Watson led alone at the end of all four rounds in 1980.
“Should be easier than having to come from behind,” he said. “I have felt comfortable out there, haven’t felt nervous. I feel like I put the time in, I feel like this is where I should be when I play well is near the lead or in the lead.”
Bradley got his first PGA Tour victory as a rookie at the Nelson two years ago. He followed that by winning the PGA Championship later that season and the World Golf Championship-Bridgestone Invitational in 2012. The nephew of LPGA great Pat Bradley came from behind on the final day for all of those wins.
After following his opening course-record 60 with a 69 on Friday, Bradley started the third round with a three-stroke lead. He stayed alone at top of the leaderboard throughout.
Scott Piercy’s 66 matched Bae and three others for the best round on a breezy Texas day. Piercy was fourth at 10 under, two strokes ahead of Gary Woodland (68), Harris English (68), John Huh (69) and 2011 Masters champ Charl Schwartzel (69).
When 83 players made the cut of even par, there were threesomes instead of traditional twosomes for the third round. That put Bradley in the same group with Bae and Gillis, who started the round tied for second place.
A secondary cut trimmed the field to 72 players for the final round, when Bradley plays with Bae in the final group. Gillis is paired with Piercy.
“Keegan is playing pretty good, but you got to play ’em all, see how it shakes out,” said Gillis, who missed the cuts in his previous five tournaments.
Gillis was the last player in the field with a bogey Saturday, when he three-putted from 20 feet at the 203-yard 17th. He got that stroke right back when he blasted out of a greenside bunker for an unexpected birdie at No. 18.
“Makes dinner taste better, that’s for sure,” Gillis said.
Bradley first got to 12 under with a 13-foot birdie at the 505-yard third hole and saved par at the next hole after driving into a fairway bunker.
His consecutive bogeys came when he two-putted for bogey after missing the green at the par-3 fifth and then drove into the rough at No. 6. But after a long wait to tee off at the 542-yard seventh hole, Bradley got to the green in two and two-putted from 14 feet for a birdie.
When Bradley’s drive at No. 11 settled just a few inches above the top edge of a bunker, it looked like he might have some trouble. But he hit his approach shot onto the green, 34 feet from the cup, and sank the birdie putt to get to 13 under. He blasted within 12 feet from a greenside bunker at the par-5 16th hole for birdie.
Bae, the 26-year-old South Korean who has 11 international victories but none on the PGA Tour, was quickly within a stroke of the lead after birdies on the first two holes. He made a 9-footer on the first and curled in a 32-foot birdie putt at the 223-yard second hole.
A 12-footer for birdie at the eighth hole got Bae to 10 under, again only a stroke back. But Bradley made a 14-foot birdie putt to close out the front nine and made the turn with a two-stroke lead over Bae and Gillis, who also made a birdie from 14 feet at the ninth hole to get to 10 under.
“Only play just my game,” Bae said when asked how difficult it will be trying to overtake Bradley. “Nobody knows.”