SARASOTA -- The West Florida Golf Tour is fast-becoming the place for high-profile players to hone their games while on break from the rigorous grind that is professional golf at the top level.
Take Monday’s two-man Halloween Classic at the Founders Club in Sarasota.
Michael Bradley, Brittany Lincicome and Ty Tryon all were in the field.
Bradley won the 2011 Puerto Rico Open, while Lincicome’s two victories this season has vaulted her to No. 6 on the LPGA Tour money list.
And Tryon played in this year’s U.S. Open 10 years after he burst onto the national golf scene as a 16-year-old phenom at the Honda Classic. Tryon finished that year’s tourney at 10-under par 278 with a performance that wowed spectators and carried over into that fall’s Q-School, where he became the youngest player to earn a PGA Tour card.
“People need stuff to do in the winter time,” said Noah Zelnik, who played with Bradley on Monday. “It’s nice, these hit-and-giggle events, but I think they have to stay a little sharp for them.”
Zelnik caddies for Bradley, who won his fourth-career PGA Tour title this season.
That victory means Bradley is exempt for two years on golf’s main circuit. It also meant the third consecutive year Bradley has played well in Puerto Rico. The Tampa-area resident notched his first victory since 1998 at the Caribbean event two years ago, and he tied for 15th there in 2010.
“I’ve played well there,” Bradley said. “There’s no rhyme or reason why. But I’ve played well there, so hopefully I can continue that.”
In addition to the early season triumph -- the Puerto Rico Open was in March -- Bradley finished the season strong to notch a spot on the top-100 of the PGA Tour’s money list.
That included two top-20 finishes in the past few weeks. Bradley fired a combined 16-under par in The McGladrey Classic and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.
The latter event takes place annually at Walt Disney World’s Magnolia and Palm Golf Courses in Lake Buena Vista.
“I putted well,” Bradley said. “I made 38 birdies and an eagle the last two events. I didn’t really hit that much better, I just made putts. And anyone knows that if you are playing decent, you are making putts. And that’s what it boils down to.”
The key, though, was a new putter. Bradley began fooling around with it at the PGA Tour stop in Las Vegas at the beginning of October.
He said the center-shafted long putter felt comfortable, so he decided to put it in the bag for the final two events.
“It’s a little more head weight and the putter seems to release a little easier,” said Bradley, who is 45.
The grizzled veteran has been a pro for over 20 years, but he took a break from golf -- playing the tour sparingly -- as he recovered from a back injury and watched his daughter grow up with a minimum schedule starting in 2001.
“It’s nice now, because she’s old enough that she understands,” said Bradley, whose daughter is 15. “She got to watch the two wins (’09 and ’11).”
Bradley also earned himself a YouTube clip at this season’s Players Championship at TPC Sawrgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
Bradley was teeing off the seventh hole when his driver slipped out of his hands and landed in the water next to the tee box during the second round. A fan helped Bradley retrieve the floating driver, but the clip with Nick Faldo’s commentary made for a funny moment.
Nonetheless, Bradley pressed on and found himself peaking again at the end of the year which bodes well for the start of 2012, since Bradley’s Puerto Rico Open victory booked him a spot in the annual Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Hawaii.
“They’re looking forward to it,” said Bradley, who has an 8-year-old son, about the family vacation to Hawaii in January. “They had such a good time in (’10), so yeah, they’re looking forward to it again.”