By Mark Lamport-Stokes
THOUSAND OAKS, California (Reuters) - American Keegan Bradley experienced a bitter-sweet third round at the World Challenge on Saturday when he was heckled for the first time in his career while charging into contention.
Winner of last year's PGA Championship, belly putter user Bradley has been among several players under the spotlight since Wednesday's proposal by golf's rulemakers for a ban on putters being anchored to the body.
Though that ban would not come into effect until 2016 at the earliest, Bradley was criticized this week on Twitter before finally experiencing his first taste of heckling at Sherwood Country Club.
"I had some guy here call me a cheater on the last hole, which was no fun," Bradley told reporters after firing a five-under-par 67 to end a day of intermittent drizzle two shots behind pacesetting Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell.
"But I look forward to hopefully making everything tomorrow with that belly putter and hopefully it (the criticism) will get a little louder.
"I never have (been heckled before). I've never heard anything negative. Today I heard a few things but I also heard way more positives than negatives."
Asked if he had responded to the fan on the 18th hole, Bradley replied: "No. You know, that's unfortunate. It's very disrespectful.
"But it's fine with me. I've got to try to look at it as motivation to help me try to win this tournament."
Bradley, who became the first player to win a major using a belly putter with his playoff victory over compatriot Jason Dufner at last year's PGA Championship, was delighted with his form on a soggy Saturday at Sherwood.
The 26-year-old, seeking his first tournament win since the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August, piled up six birdies and a lone bogey to finish the penultimate round of the 18-player event hosted by Tiger Woods at 11-under 205.
"I feel really good out there," said Bradley. "It's so fun to be back in the hunt again. It's been a while. It's been a few months, so it feels really good to be back out here in the heat of everything.
"Pepsi (Steve Hale), my caddie, gave me a little tip yesterday, and I putted better today, much better. I've missed a bunch of makeable putts this week, so hopefully they'll go in tomorrow."
Bradley, who needed only 26 putts on Saturday after totaling 33 in the opening round, relished the prospect of playing with 2010 champion McDowell in Sunday's final pairing.
"Graeme loves this place," said the three-times PGA Tour winner.
"He just has such an unbelievable record here. I'll be looking forward to playing with him tomorrow. It'll be a good time."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)