Koepka wins 100th PGA for second major in 2018
by M. James Ward
ST. LOUIS, MO. Missouri is known as the "show me" State and Brooks Koepka, the man who successfully defended his US Open title this past June at Shinnecock Hills, followed up with a vintage performance in winning the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis and showed the golfing world he is primed to add even more key events in the years ahead.
The 28-year-old was chased throughout the final round by a horde of golfers, most notably Tiger Woods who shot a final round 64, finishing second two shots back in his best performance in a major event since returning to action this year from surgery.
How good was Koepka's performance? Consider his 72-hole score of 264 becomes the lowest in PGA Championship history. In addition, the Floridian joins an elite grouping of four other players who have won both the US Open and PGA Championship in the same year. Ironically, the last golfer to do so was Woods. The win at Bellerive marks his 3rd major victory – the other two coming at the US Open in 2017 and 2018.
After a shaky first six holes Koepka righted the ship by closing out the front side with three consecutive birdies. The inward half provided top tier golfing theater as a host of players – including defending champion Justin Thomas and Belgium's Thomas Pieters – attempted to enter the mix. Only Woods and Australian Adam Scott remained in the hunt during the final few holes.
Woods, who has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes, recorded his best score on the back nine during the event with a stellar three-under-par 32. Tiger was looking for his first major in ten plus year and his first PGA TOUR win in over five years. On the back nine Woods stiffed a 9-iron approach at the 15th for a kick-in birdie getting to within two shots of the lead. At the long par-3 16th his 4-iron found the putting surface with just 20 feet to negotiate for birdie. The putt failed and after Woods blocked his tee shot right into the water hazard at the par-5 17th he fought back gamely with a 5-iron approach and ten feet for birdie. Again, his putter failed to produce. At the final hole Woods ended the day in solid fashion, holing an 18-foot putt for a final round 64 – the lowest final round Tiger has ever shot in a major championship.
The poise Koepka displayed when winning at Shinnecock was in ample evidence during the final round. With the crowds pulling for Tiger to win and with Scott making a back nine move which eventually had him tie for the lead after the 13th hole, it was Koepka who answered the call in a big time way with a towering drive followed by a quality wedge to the 15th hole. Koepka sunk the 10-foot putt to secure the lead he would never relinquish. At the par-3 16th, Koepka hit the shot that clinched the event – a laser-like 4-iron that settled no more than 7 feet away on the 248-yard par-3 hole. Once again, Koepka displayed total focus draining the putt and pushing the lead to two. At the par-5 17th he missed a short birdie putt and when Scott failed to birdie from 7 feet away the lead was two with just one to play. Koepka blistered a tee shot at the par-4 18th to no more than 110 yards away. He calmly played his pitch to the green and two-putt from 18 feet to nail down the victory.
It is hard to conceive Koepka has won three of the last six majors he has played – missing the 2018 Master because of injury. However, his total wins on the PGA TOUR is a meager one title – claiming the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
At Shinnecock, Koepka had to play the bulk of his round after Tommy Fleetwood had posted a final round 63 and leaving him little margin for error. During the final nine holes on the Long Island layout Koepka repeatedly rose to the occasion with par saving putts and a superb wedge leading to birdie at the par-5 16th nailing down the win.
At Bellerive, Koepka had to beat back the massive gallery pulling for Woods. The resolve and determination Koepka displayed was nothing short of impressive given how the likes of other golf stars have faded when Woods has been pushing hard for victory.Koepka's ripped physique and deft touch around the greens shows how professional golf at the highest of levels is now the domain of the athletic golfer. Where many had questioned Koepka's initial major triumph at Erin Hills claiming it was faulty course set-up that produced the win. There's no question now that the name Brooks Koepka is a player fully capable in handling just about any situation that comes his way. His win at Bellerive in overcoming Woods, Scott and all the rest was simply brilliant. At Bellerive, Koepka clearly laid down the gauntlet – if he's in the hunt during major events then all other competitors should be ready to raise their games to an even higher level. Brooks "show me" Koepka is now a powerful locomotive barreling down the tracks. It's either keep up or get run over.