By Mark Lamport-Stokes
JOHNS CREEK, Georgia (Reuters) - PGA Tour rookie Keegan Bradley capped a stunning late fightback by winning his first major title in a playoff with fellow American Jason Dufner for the 93rd PGA Championship Sunday.
Bradley, who had trailed the pacesetting Dufner by five strokes with three holes to play in regulation, clinched the prized Wanamaker Trophy over three extra holes as the shadows lengthened at a sun-splashed Atlanta Athletic Club.
His victory, in his first major start, ended an unprecedented run of six majors without a U.S. champion, and was his second title on the U.S. circuit in his debut season.
"This feels unbelievable," a beaming Bradley, 25, told reporters after becoming the first player to claim a grand slam crown in his maiden major start since fellow American Ben Curtis at the 2003 British Open.
The last player to achieve the feat on American soil was Francis Ouimet at the 1913 U.S. Open.
"I always wanted while growing up to win tournaments and win majors, and I can't believe this trophy is sitting next to me," said Bradley, who was ranked 108th in the world coming into this week.
"It's an honor to be even thought of in that category. And I'm very proud of the way I played. It's the best golf I've ever played, and man, it was so exciting."
Bradley holed a four-foot birdie putt at the first playoff hole, the par-four 16th, to hold an early advantage over Dufner, who missed his attempt there from six feet.
Though Bradley could only par the tricky 160-yard 17th where a large pond guards the front of the green, he found himself two strokes ahead after Dufner ran up a three-putt bogey.
Bradley then sealed victory in the year's final major with a two-putt par at the treacherous 18th after both players found the front portion of the green with their approach shots.
After tapping in from less than two feet, the slender American acknowledged the roars from the crowd crammed around the green before shaking hands with Dufner, who had birdied the hole from long range.
Bradley, a nephew of LPGA great and World Golf Hall of Famer Pat Bradley, won his first PGA Tour title in a playoff with compatriot Ryan Palmer at the Byron Nelson Championship in May.
"Hats off to Keegan for coming in there in the last three holes in regulation," Dufner, 34, told reporters after losing a playoff for the second time this year on the PGA Tour.
"He played great playoff holes and it's probably not the finish I was looking forward to."
Co-leader overnight with PGA Tour rookie Brendan Steele, Dufner had been unflappable for much of the day and was five strokes clear while playing the par-three 15th after Bradley had tripled-bogeyed that hole one group ahead.
However Dufner then fell back with bogeys at 15, 16 and 17 while Bradley sank birdie putts from nine feet at the 16th and 40 feet at the 17th to force a playoff.
"If you told me I would play those holes even par for the week, I probably would have taken at the beginning," 80th-ranked Dufner said of the brutal four final holes on the Highland course.
"Just a little disappointed right now, especially 16 and 17. Those are the ones that kind of stick out to me," added Dufner, who tied for fifth in last year's PGA Championship at Whistling Straits but has yet to win a PGA Tour title.
The pair had finished the 72 regulation holes on eight-under-par 272, Dufner fading to a one-under-par 69 while Bradley closed with a five-birdie 68.
Denmark's Anders Hansen closed with a joint best-of-the-day 66 to finish third at seven under, two strokes ahead of Swede Robert Karlsson (67) and American veterans David Toms (67) and the 47-year-old Scott Verplank (70).
Verplank, who trailed by one shot after making a birdie at the par-five second, had been bidding to become the second-oldest player to win a major, compatriot Julius Boros having clinched the 1968 PGA Championship aged 48.
World number one Luke Donald and second-ranked fellow Briton Lee Westwood both got to within three strokes of the lead on the back nine before losing momentum on the way to matching 68s and a tie for eighth at three under.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)