| KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina
KIAWAH ISLAND, South Carolina Keegan Bradley enjoyed a dream start to his PGA Championship defense on Thursday, getting the "chills" after being announced as champion before launching his round with a spectacular birdie-eagle run.
Paired with former winners Tiger Woods and Martin Kaymer in a high-profile grouping, Bradley ended a steaming hot day at Kiawah Island firmly in contention for the year's final major after firing a four-under-par 68.
"I feel great," a beaming Bradley told reporters after covering his back nine in three-under 33. "I get announced as the PGA champion, and it gives me chills.
"The whole day was really fun and I love playing with Tiger. I felt very good, and any time I get to play with Tiger, I really enjoy it."
Asked about his explosive start from the par-four 10th, Bradley replied: "It was great, a little surprising almost. The shot I hit on two, the 11th hole, was pretty good. And that was big to help calm me down maybe a little bit and focus."
Bradley's only real concern was the energy-sapping heat and humidity at Kiawah Island early on his outward nine.
"I'm so happy it started blowing later because it was so hot this morning," he grinned. "On the 14th tee was one of the hottest moments of my life. This is a nice little wind now though for the guys."
Bradley, who clinched his maiden major title in a playoff with compatriot Jason Dufner for last year's PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club, was delighted to take on an Ocean Course made more receptive by heavy rain earlier this week
"It's relatively soft just because of the rain," the 26-year-old said. "It's very playable if you hit the ball well. If you hit the ball in the fairway, you can make a lot of birdies. If you don't, you're going to struggle.
"And you've got to play these par-threes as best you can, and today I did that.
"I played very well. Only two three-putts, and one was from off the green, but they were my only two bogeys of the day. It was just a solid, solid round."
Bradley, who won his third PGA Tour title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, will go into Friday's second round two shots behind pacesetting Swede Carl Pettersson.
(Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Frank Pingue)