So close but so far for Koepka, Casey, others at PGA Championship
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Written by Ben Everill @BEverillGolfbet
Paul Casey’s clutch bunker shot yields birdie putt at PGA Championship
SAN FRANCISCO – The debriefs will be long and lonesome.
Eight different players who held the lead at some point on Sunday at TPC Harding Park did not leave with the Wanamaker trophy. Eight. And one of them was not Brooks Koepka.
The ninth was Collin Morikawa who stepped up down the stretch to pull away from a bunched pack, breaking their hearts in the process.
Koepka started the final round two off the overnight lead and was expected to be the most likely to reel in Dustin Johnson who sat atop through 54 holes. Neither of them finished on top.
Koepka’s quest for a third straight PGA Championship was over almost before it began. A bogey on the second hole, and three more to close the front nine, meant Peter Thomson remains the last player to win the same major three years running after he claimed the Open Championship from 1954-56.
On Saturday night Koepka had said his experience would pull him through but his swing got loose and putter went cold.
“It's my first bad round in a while in a major… wasn't meant to be. Three in a row, you're not really supposed to do two in a row looking at history, but that's all right. Got two more the rest of the season and we'll figure it out from there,” Koepka said after dropping to a tie for 29th with a 4-over 74.
“To make the turn at 4-over was disappointing, to say the least. You knew you had to be under par, at least one, to have a good chance on the back side. Every time I hit it in the rough today I got probably the worst lie I've had all week. The green speeds this weekend I never really got down… and just never quite got putts to the hole to make anything.”
After being on the outside of the FedExCup Playoff zone for most of the season until a runner up finish last week Koepka did do enough to secure the post-season. He will head to the regular season-ending Wyndham Championship in 92nd spot on the FedExCup looking to push further up the list.
Johnson was obviously one of the eight to hold the lead and not win. He quickly jumped to double digits under par with an opening birdie Sunday and after going bogey/birdie on the third and fourth holes stayed at 10 under and in a share for an age.
But when it was time to surge on the back nine the 21-time PGA TOUR winner could not match what he’d done in the opening three rounds. Johnson was 9 under on those holes prior, four better than any other challenger. On Sunday it took a final hole birdie, with the result already sealed, to close in 1-under 34 and pull into a tie for second.
He shared that spot with veteran Englishman Paul Casey who was riding the feel good vibes of perhaps claiming his first major in his 64th attempt. Casey birdied the fourth and fifth holes to make his first move and joined the leaders at the par-5 10th. When he bogeyed the 13th hole he could have slunk out of contention but instead hitched up his pants and birdied the next hole to return to the lead.
When Morikawa took it from him soon after Casey responded by making birdie on 16 to join him again. But as he stood on the 17th tee he saw Morikawa drive the 16th green behind him to set up what would be the critical eagle.
With the knowledge he needed to step up Casey hit a great shot to 16-feet on the penultimate hole but his putt slid past. Another decent approach to 22-feet on the last hole was another that he just couldn’t get to drop.
In the end he needed both.
“I played phenomenal golf and there's nothing I would change. I'm very, very happy with how I played. Great attitude. Stayed very calm and stayed in the present. Wasn't enough. The glorious shots Collin hit like on 16 to make eagle, you have to tip your cap,” Casey said.
“I'm very, very happy with everything. Kind of got my mojo back now. I had 12 (under) in the back of my mind kind of all day and that wouldn't have been enough, either. I do think I'm in a sweet spot. It's taken me 43 years to get there, but yeah, pretty chilled out, know what I'm capable of, and enjoying my golf.”
The five players who would ultimately share fourth place – Jason Day (66), Matthew Wolff (65), Bryson DeChambeau (66), Tony Finau (66) and Scottie Scheffler (68) also had a piece of top spot throughout the round.
PGA TOUR rookie Scheffler got there first when playing partner Johnson made an early bogey after he had opened his round with a birdie. A string of eight pars after his opening salvo meant he didn’t get back toa share until a birdie on the 10th hole. His efforts were thwarted with a bogey on the 13th hole as Morikawa started his run ahead.
“Definitely a step in the right direction. I would have liked to have played a little bit better today but the putts just weren't falling,” Scheffler said. “But it was definitely a solid week out here. So good steppingstone going forward. I feel like my game is starting to turn around, going the right direction. Looking forward to the Playoffs.”
DeChambeau got to the top after making four birdies in his first seven holes. But as quickly as he was in the mix, he fell back out with back-to-back bogeys on eight and nine and an inability to take advantage of his prodigious length on the par-5 10th hole. He tried to muster a late run with birdies on 14 and 16 but it wasn’t enough.
“There was a few moments where I kind of got a spur of momentum, and look, I played great golf this whole week, and finally was able to finish in the top ten, top five in a major, and that's an awesome accolade, and next step is to win. I feel like my game is good enough,” DeChambeau said.
“This week, a couple drives, a couple putts, a couple iron shots; that's golf, right. And so I'm just proud of the way I handled myself, and that I was able to still keep executing when times got tough and kept my head up high.”
Wolff didn’t appear to be a factor after bogey on the fifth had him languishing at four under. But a birdie, birdie, birdie, eagle run around the turn gave him a sniff. A bogey at 14 hurt but birdies at 16 and then again at 18 posted 10 under. At the time it was the co-lead, and lead in the clubhouse.
“I've hit it unbelievable this entire week. I think even with making some putts coming down the stretch, I probably lost strokes throughout the week putting, and I hit it, I mean, tremendous, probably the best ball-striking week of my life,” Wolff said.
Day started three back and opened with birdie but then went quiet with eight straight pars. Birdies on nine and 10 crept him closer before the 2015 PGA Championship winner birdied the 14th to join the top spot. As he went the closing four holes all averaged under par on Sunday but Day couldn’t muster another birdie despite a few decent looks.
It was his fourth top 10 in as many starts on the PGA TOUR and the 15th major top 10, and 10th major top 5, of his career.
“Overall, I played solid golf from tee-to-green. Gave myself the opportunities. Although I played great, there's still a lot more to improve on,” Day said. “I've been moving in the right direction over the last four tournaments. Things are slowly coming together, it's like a puzzle, really. Everything is starting to connect and click.”
Finau opened birdie birdie and then crept closer with another at the 10th. A bogey at 12 may have kicked him out of it however back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14 gave him his place with the leaders. In the end he had to settle for a sixth top 10 finish in the last nine majors played.
“I was playing to win. There's no question about it. I got a lot of top finishes in major championships just in the last few years. It's great to put yourself in that position, but when I teed it up this morning, or this afternoon, I wanted to win the golf tournament and not have a close finish,” Finau said. “It's great to have played this well. But hopefully I keep knocking and my day comes soon.”
Lastly Cameron Champ, like Morikawa a California kid with ties to the Bay area, gave his fans hope with birdies on the fourth and sixth holes to get to 10 under. But his killer blow would come on the ninth hole when a wild drive set up a double bogey.
“All in all it was a solid day. I fought, even when I wasn't hitting it well. Things just really weren't going my way,” Champ said. “I'm taking a lot of positives from this week.”
There was a small silver lining for Wolff and Champ who secured invitations to the U.S. Open at Winged Foot next month by virtue of being the highest two finishers not already exempt inside the top 10.
The good news for all of them … the FedExCup Playoffs starts in less than two weeks and the U.S. Open is just a little over a month away. This was just the first of seven majors, plus a PLAYERS Championship, slated over the next 11 months. So more chances are coming.