Bradley makes full assault on Augusta

Keegan Bradley wants to be like his new pal, Phil Mickelson.

Of course, next week, when he plays in the Masters for the first time, he wants to be more like Fuzzy Zoeller, who in 1979 earned the green jacket in his initial trip to Augusta National.

No one has done that other than Horton Smith in 1935 and Gene Sarazen in 1936, in the first two years of the tournament.

"I’m going to put a lot of time in (preparing for the Masters)," said Bradley, surprise winner of the PGA Championship last year.

He will make his final tuneup this week in the Shell Houston Open.

"I’m trying my best to play well (at Augusta) my first year," he said.

Is he ever.

The 25-year-old Bradley has visited Augusta National three times, once with his father, Mark, the head golf pro at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club, several weeks ago.

Then he made the trip two weeks ago with Mickelson, who has taken Bradley under his wing, and Dustin Johnson. He also has plans to go there again this week.

In addition, Bradley has taken a page from the book of defending Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and sat down with Jack Nicklaus to learn all he could about the nuances of the course from the Golden Bear, who won six Masters titles.

And he has an old Augusta yardage book given to him by Bones Mackay, Mickelson’s caddie.

"There’s not a better person to go up to Augusta with than Phil," said Bradley, who was selected 2011 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year after winning twice. "I seem to go play with Phil and he gives me a good beating, and I play really well the week after. It seems to work out.

". . . Watching Phil, I’m amazed. It’s even annoying, but I’m amazed at how often he can get it up-and-down."

Bradley was a champion ski racer growing up, but perhaps he was destined to be a golfer.

Not only is his dad a golf pro, but Pat Bradley is his aunt. She won 31 times on the LPGA Tour, including six major titles, on her way to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Keegan Bradley was happy to give his dad the time of his life at Augusta.

"My dad was freaking out; he loved it so much, and it was even better because he played really well," Bradley said. "It’s one of those places that lives up to your expectations.

". . . It was lightning fast, and they put the Sunday pins in for us. Augusta is going to be very important to me, and I plan on playing as much as I can."

Bradley, the first player to win a major title while wielding a long putter, has shown he is not afraid of the big stage.

When he outlasted Jason Dufner in a playoff to capture the PGA Championship in August at Atlanta Athletic Club, he pulled off the rare feat of winning in his first major championship appearance.

The two most recent players to do that were Ben Curtis in the 2003 British Open at Royal St. George’s and Francis Ouimet in the 1913 US Open at Brookline.

Earlier this year, after Mickelson holed a 26-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole of the Northern Trust Open to get into a playoff with Bill Haas, he fist-bumped with playing partner Bradley and said, "Join me."

Which his younger friend did by sinking his 13-footer for a birdie.

Haas won by holing an unlikely 43-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole, but Mickelson and Bradley had provided some of the best theater seen on the PGA Tour in an eventful early part of the season.

"I really like Keegan," Mickelson said. "He’s a great guy. He’s a great player, and I think a lot of him. I think he’s a tremendous talent, and I like playing with him.

"We’ve had some great practice rounds, good fun. You can be very relaxed around him, and he takes things well. You can rough him up a little bit, and he’ll give it right back."

Bradley has yet to win in his second season, but he certainly isn’t in anything close to a sophomore slump.

The 2008 graduate of St. John’s, who wears his college red on Sunday, has finished in the top 25 in all eight of his outings this season.

Keegan wasn’t all that discouraged when he coughed up the lead in the final round of the WGC-Cadillac Championship two weeks ago and tied for eighth after a closing 3-over-par 75.

"I did a good job of staying in the present there," said Bradley, who was playing on the Hooters Tour three years ago. "Sometimes, it’s tough when you fall out of contention, when you’ve been kind of in it all day, to finish off. I’ve got to learn how to do that.

". . . I haven’t felt pressure. Honestly, I’ve been comfortable ever since I came out here."

Bradley is hoping to say the same next week at Augusta.