Koepka beats back challengers, wins 100th PGA Championship
Woods finishes solo second after thrilling final-round charge at Bellerive
August 13, 2018
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
Brooks Koepka wins second major of the year at PGA Championship
ST. LOUIS – The invisible superstar has won three majors in his last six major starts, manhandles courses like a vintage Tiger, and bulges out of his shirts like Arnie.
He has boulder shoulders, buttery hands, and the guts of a burglar.
Brooks Koepka, who, yes, knows Dustin Johnson and could probably get you an autograph, shot a final-round 66 to win the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club on Sunday. And he did it in classic Koepka style: under the radar. Really under the radar.
Tiger Woods, just a year removed from potentially never playing again, shot a 6-under 64 that turned Bellerive upside-down and left him in second place alone, two behind the winner.
“Brooks just doesn’t draw attention to himself,” Florida State men’s golf coach Trey Jones, who recruited Koepka to Tallahassee, said while watching the telecast Sunday. “That’s just not his personality. When he won the U.S. Open the first time he didn’t do the media tour. When he won it the second time, he didn’t do the media tour. He just does his own thing.
“All through college, he never cared what other people were doing,” Jones continued. “He just doesn’t get enamored with other players.”
That’s fine. But by now shouldn’t they be enamored with him? And what about us?
It’s gotten so bad that Jack Nicklaus, who himself played second banana to Palmer all those years ago, tweeted that Koepka was being unfairly overlooked and, “doesn’t seem to get press or credit he deserves. A great young talent. Strong, aggressive, smart golfer. Likely force to be reckoned w/for years to come. Should be in every conversation about today’s best!”
All Koepka did Sunday, when he took a two-shot lead over Adam Scott into the final round, was birdie the first hole and beat back wildly entertaining challenges from Woods, defending PGA and FedExCup champion Justin Thomas, and playing partner Scott.
Years from now, when people tell you they attended the 100th PGA, they’ll tell you about Woods, 42. That deafening roar when he birdied the par-4 ninth hole to get to 11 under, one back? Yeah, Koepka, 28, didn’t really get that when he birdied the eighth to lead by two again.
“First time Tiger's been in contention and I've been in contention at the same time,” Koepka said, “so the fans definitely let you know what he was doing.”
But hey, that’s okay. Koepka is used to it. He’s making a nice career out of getting quieter claps if not completely overlooked. All week in steamy St. Looie he worked out with his usual lifting buddy, world No. 1 Johnson, at a nearby Lifetime Fitness, and all week patrons paid Koepka about as much attention as that dust bunny under the rowing machine.
But guess who got the trophy?
Woods, for one, is plenty enamored with your winner.
“What he did at Shinnecock, just bombing it, and then he's doing same thing here,” Woods said. “I played with him in a practice round, and he was literally hitting it 340, 350 in the air. And when a guy's doing that and hitting it straight and as good a putter as he is, it's tough to beat.”
Koepka moves to 3rd in the FedExCup, becomes just the fifth player to win the U.S. Open and PGA in the same season, and has three majors now, same as Jordan Spieth (66, T12). Let that sink in.
Winning PGA TOUR events is meant to be tiring, majors especially so, but all Koepka does is keep winning them. He now has four TOUR titles to his name; three of them are majors.
“You have to enjoy all that,” Stewart Cink (67, 11 under, solo fourth) said of the demands on a player’s time after reaching the mountaintop. “You can’t see it as a hindrance or a nuisance; you have to see it as just a bonus for playing good.
“He’s in the right frame of mind; he’s probably seeing it as a bonus,” Cink added. “You play great golf in tournaments like this, you’re going to be doing a lot of extracurricular activities.”
No one knew what to expect from par-70, 7,316-yard Bellerive, which hadn’t hosted the best players in the world since the 2008 BMW Championship. Accurate, medium-length hitters like Gary Player, Nick Price and Camilo Villegas had won here in the past, but not this time. The course was saturated with rain early in the week, and wound up suiting the long knockers like Koepka, Woods, Scott (67, solo third, three back) and Thomas (68, T6).
“It feels like driving it long is a huge advantage,” Cink said. “It’s kind of a short bombers’ course, if there is such a thing.”
This one wasn’t easy, even if Koepka sometimes made it look that way.
Scott rallied with birdies at 7, 8, 10 and 12. He stuck his tee shot at 13 to 6 1/2 feet and made the birdie putt to get to 14 under, tied for the lead. Koepka couldn’t convert from the same distance and they were even.
And then there was Woods. The St. Louis fans were plentiful, and loud, and just looking for a reason to explode. Woods gave it to them with six birdies in his first 13 holes.
“It was pretty cool,” Thomas said. “The crowds were awesome. You could hear the roars from different parts of the golf course. It's pretty apparent what a Tiger roar is versus anybody else.”
When Woods bogeyed the 14th hole to fall two back, it seemed like he would again go quietly after so much front-nine promise. But he stuck his approach to a foot at 15, ensuring he’d get back to 13 under, sending up another sonic boomlet Arch-high over Bellerive.
Brooks Koepka's clutch 247-yard tee shot at PGA Championship
Thomas birdied 10 and 11, unwilling to give up his crown without a fight.
Koepka, though, remained as cool, calm and collected as ever. And he is nothing if not resilient, which the golf gods drool over in the majors.
FSU’s Jones first saw him play at a junior tournament in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Koepka shot 43 on the front nine. Uh, oh, Jones thought. Well, at least he wasn’t there to recruit just one guy. He busied himself with other prospects, then looked at the scores and realized Koepka had shot 35 on the back.
Such fortitude has become Koepka’s calling card. When he didn’t immediately make it through Q-School and punch his ticket on the PGA TOUR, he played in Europe, which meant, among other things, once eating horse meat in Kazakhstan. And when he suffered a wrist injury that cost him the first four months of this season, he didn’t lose a step.
Ricky Elliott, his caddie, was apprehensive when he traveled from Orlando to Jupiter, Florida, to check up on Koepka the week after the Masters in April. Koepka had been out for three months with a partially torn tendon in his left wrist, but now he was going to try and start hitting some little shots. He was probably going to be pretty rusty; Elliott, a former Irish boys’ champion who started to caddie for Koepka in Europe, tempered his expectations.
He needn’t have worried.
“I went down and he was hitting full shots, and he was hitting them right on the button,” Elliott said. “I’m going, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been practicing?’ He didn’t hit a shot for three and a half months, and it looked like he hadn’t missed a beat.”
He told this story after the U.S. Open. Now, though, the legend grows.
On Sunday at the PGA, tied with Scott, Koepka split the 15th fairway with a 334-yard drive, knocked his approach to 10 feet, and buried the curling, left-to-right putt.
Just like that, he was in front again, doing his own thing without a care for Woods as he sliced his drive into the lateral hazard up ahead at the par-5 17th, or Scott as he began to falter, or Thomas, who gnashed his teeth as he bogeyed 14 and 16.
Koepka wouldn’t lose the lead this time; he would add to it, strafing his tee shot to 6 1/2 feet at the par-3 16th, and making the putt for his second straight birdie. He was 16 under, up by two again, and made it official with pars on 17 and 18. He hadn’t missed a beat.
He had done at Bellerive what he had done at Shinnecock Hills and Erin Hills and at TPC Scottsdale in 2015, when he won the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He had bludgeoned the course with his power, left everyone behind with his touch, and left plenty of video evidence as to his dominance. We saw him right there, in living color.
Maybe this time we won’t forget.