Koepka looms, but he needs to make putts
July 20, 2019
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Brooks Koepka carded a 4-under 67 to sit seven shots back at The Open Championship. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – From Brooks Koepka’s perspective, nobody in the field through three rounds of The Open Championship has been better tee-to-green.
“I’ve hit it as good as I could possibly imagine,” he said.
“I’ve putted the worst in the entire field. … It’s been really bad. Very frustrating. Disappointed.”
And yet, there he is, still looming near the top of the leaderboard. Koepka’s 4-under 67 on Saturday at Royal Portrush leaves him at 9 under for the tournament and in a tie for fourth with Justin Rose.
The bad news is that he’ll start Sunday’s final round seven shots off the lead held by Irishman Shane Lowry.
For the player who’s gone 1-T2-1-2 in his last four major starts, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Koepka to make his presence felt at Royal Portrush. Yes, he’s well back of Lowry, who has a four-shot lead over Tommy Fleetwood. The tournament is in Lowry’s hands, not Koepka’s, going into the final round.
But if Lowry stumbles – which he did three years ago after holding a four-shot lead through three rounds of the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont – then Koepka has just two players to hurdle: Fleetwood, who’s 12 under, and J.B. Holmes at 10 under.
“It’s just not the week I’ve been looking for, not the week that I’ve expected,” Koepka said. “But at the same time, there’s one more round, so I need to figure it out.”
Bad weather will help. Strong winds and potential rain are in the forecast, and that’s potentially good news for the chase pack. In perfect conditions Saturday, Lowry shot an 8-under 63, tying for the second-lowest score in major championship history. Another perfect day would make things easier for him.
“You need some wind, you need some rain,” Koepka said. “You need anything that can kind of go your way. And that’s got to be an advantage – especially the way I’m striking the ball. I’ve struck it so good. If it’s going to be windy, you need to be able to strike it good, control your flight and figure out where you want the ball to end up. If it’s going to blow 30 (mph), it can get out of control very quickly.”
Rose, in the same boat as Koepka, knows it’s just a matter of picking off the guys ahead of him and taking advantage if Lowry has a bad day.
“Whenever some guy’s stretch the lead, I’ve always said, where’s second place? …” Rose said. “You never know what the leader is going to do. You’ve always got to look at where the chasing pack is and stay relevant to that.”
That chasing pack is led by fellow Englishman Fleetwood thanks to his bogey-free 66 on Saturday. Fleetwood’s putter has been more effective than Koepka’s this week. He’ll also have the benefit of keeping Lowry in his sights, as the two are paired in the final group.
Of course, that means he’ll also have to deal with all the support that Lowry will receive Sunday. It was a crazy scene on Saturday as Lowry rode the emotional Irish backing in the final group with Holmes. No reason to think it will be different in the final round.
“I’m very happy to have that challenge,” Fleetwood said. “If you had said at the start of today, at the start of the week, at the start of the year, you’re going into the last round – whether I’m four back, five back, it doesn’t matter -- I’m in the last group Sunday at The Open and playing with Shane, and the majority of the crowd might not be with you, I would’ve said fine, ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’
“I’m looking forward to it, to be honest with you.”
Holmes had the front-row view on Saturday and called it “awesome” to see, a “cool experience.” Added Holmes: "I don't know how many times in history you get the opportunity to witness that or be around that, to have somebody from the home country put a round up like that in an Open. It's pretty special. Something I'll never forget."
But in shooting a 69 and losing six shots to Lowry, Holmes now must hope he can at least switch the scores Sunday. No lead, he figures – or at least hopes -- is insurmountable in a major.
“It's tough no matter whether you have a one-shot lead or a five-shot lead,” Holmes said. “It's tough to finish off a major. It's a tough test. So we'll see.”