Brooks Koepka almost blew it but ultimately triumphed again. Meanwhile Adam Scott was the leading Australian at the PGA Championship at Bethpage State Park in New York today.
Koepka’s victory was not the triumphal march that everyone expected.
Seven shots ahead at the start of the day, the apparently-nerveless 29-year-old showed distinct signs of mortality on the back nine with four consecutive bogeys, mainly with errant drives into the tortuous Bethpage Black rough.
It was a rollercoaster. Through 10 holes, after he hit a gorgeous gap wedge in close for birdie, he had fended off an early Dustin Johnson challenge and extended the lead back to six shots. But then the tumult: at the 11th, a bogey from the fairway bunker, then at the 12th another shot dropped after having to lay up from the deep rough. At the par-five 13th a short miss for par and at the 14th, he airmailed the green at the par-three and could not get up and down.
At the same time, Johnson hit it close at the 15th and rolled in his birdie putt and suddenly the Koepka lead was just one shot from his close buddy and gym mate, Johnson. It was a two-man battle with everyone else going backwards on a difficult, windy day.
Koepka could hear the roars around the course for Johnson, and was threating a Normanesque-level fade-out, but what happened next was instructive. He pulled it back together, started hitting fairways and greens. At the 15th and 16th steady pars came and Johnson faltered just as soon as he had threatened to play the Nick Faldo role from the 1996 Masters.
Johnson bogeyed both 16 and 17 and then made a great up-and-down from left of the 18th green to the acclaim of the crowd to post six-under par overall. This left Koepka (who had thrown in another bogey at the par-three 17th) a two-shot lead going up 18. Even then, there was drama with his tugged tee shot into a fairway bunker forcing a lay-up.
Koepka stepped up knowing that he needed to hit the green from 60 metres and two-putt. That would be enough. Under the fiercest of heat, he wedged it up close, inside two metres, rolled in the putt for par and showed the first burst of emotion all day – a big fist pump and a hug for his caddie. On day one he’d carved the famously difficult course up with a 63; on the final day, he’d scrambled to a 74.
He won by two shots at eight-under par from Johnson with Jordan Spieth Patrick Cantlay and Matt Wallace tied for third at two-under par. Only six players ended up breaking par on a day that Koepka called “brutal”.The low round of the day was just 68, but Johnson, so often the bridesmaid, was brilliant with his 69. 'DJ' now has the so-called 'runner-up Grand Slam' with second-place finishes in all four majors.
Koepka vaults back to No. 1 in the world with his fourth major and his back-to-back PGA Championship titles. He has won four of the past eight major championships – the 2017 and 2018 US Opens and the past two PGAs – and by going back-to-back he becomes the first man to win consecutive PGAs and US Opens. He has gone from no majors to four in one year and 11 months – faster than any man.
He also went wire-to-wire this week.
“I’m just glad we don’t have to play any more holes,’’ he said afterward. “That was a stressful round of golf. That wind was up, DJ played awesome, congrats to him. He put the pressure on but I’m glad to have this thing back in my hands.”
Scott closed with a 74 today, leaking three shots on the back nine, but finished tied-eighth at one-over par, mimicking his top-10 finish from this tournament last year. The Queenslander is making a sterling comeback to the top level after a lull, having finished just outside the top 10 at the Players Championship and the Masters already this year.
Of the other Australians, Jason Day tied-23rd, Cameron Smith tied-64th and Lucas Herbert was tied-71st.
– 8 Brooks Koepka
– 6 Dustin Johnson
– 2 Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay, Matt Wallace
– 1 Luke Lisk
+1 Adam Scott
+4 Jason Day
+11 Cameron Smith
+12 Lucas Herbert