Koepka keeps his cool to land the USPGA, but Woods’ comeback tour takes another step
Brooks Koepka won his second major of the year, with victory at Bellerive on Sunday to claim his first PGA Championship. The main story perhaps was Tiger Woods’ final day fightback, shooting 64, his finest score on a major Sunday. Kris Gourlay recaps the 100th PGA Championship.
After an agonisingly close finish at Carnoustie, Woods thought he’d do it all over again as he shoots 64 on the final day of the PGA Championship to come second overall, third time lucky perhaps?
With a very below-par (pun intended) performance on the first day of the 100th PGA Championship, you can’t help but think what could have been if Woods didn’t sink all the way down to +3 after a few holes back on day one. After shooting his lowest ever round on the last day at a major, at the grand age of 42. Big Cat is firmly amongst the pigeons.
This, just weeks on from his heroic performance at the Scottish Open in Carnoustie, where at one point he held the outright lead for the first time in 10 years, Woods looked to build upon that and win his very belated 15th major Championship, but the brilliance of Brooks Koepka saw that dream come crashing down in front of his eyes.
Moving day was initially delayed overnight due to weather concerns on day two of the open whilst Tiger was out on the course and half-way through a decent round, but that didn’t stop him from coming out on Saturday morning to cap off a well-rounded 66 under-par, a score he replicated the same day to stay just in touch of the leaders going into his final round, but a win was certainly doable.
Brooks Koepka, though, is a chip off the old block. The sensation, who is as strong as an ox, has won three majors in the last 14 months and maybe is filing himself into Tiger’s shoes. From the start of his round to the finish, albeit hitting back to back bogeys on the front nine, Koepka never looked like finishing anywhere but first. He showed nerves of steel and great composure to make the right shots at the right time to see off a late charge from Australian Adam Scott to make it his second major win of the season, and at the age of 29, only few have done that. Woods being one of those, of course.
It wasn’t to be for Tiger in the end, who started off like a man possessed. In his first three holes, all three approach shots put him within 6 foot for birdie, of which two he made to take him to -10. A terribly misjudged lob at the 6th put him in a difficult position to grind out a par and he slipped back down to -9. Then it dawned on everyone, Woods hasn’t hit a fairway yet! A full front 9 with 4 birdies and not one fairway hit off the tee is quite sensational for unwanted reasons.
World number two, Justin Thomas, who needed to win to get the number one spot, was making every putt and looking like he could spoil the party but a poor back 9 soon swept him out of contention. Woods birdied 8 and 9 to start his back nine just one shot off the lead, we all thought this was his time.
Birdies at 12 and 13 saw him keep pace with leaders Koepka and Scott but a horrible drive on 14 saw his ball nestle in amongst the spectator crowd, giving him a very difficult lie and second shot. An agonising bogey on that hole saw his hopes dashed completely, as Koepka turned up the heat, making pars and birdies throughout the rest of his round.
The par five 17th turned very much into an eagle or bust hole, which of course Tiger scored a par on due to another horrible lie just next to the water where all he could do was help it back onto the fairway, giving him a very difficult birdie putt. The hopeful atmosphere had died down, the realistic outcome becoming more clear.
The crowd went wild as Woods approached the 18th green. Thousands flocked to see his every shot, all day for four days and they all gathered to see him hit his final putt of the major season. With him firmly out of contention for the win, a birdie would sure cheer the spectators up, so a vintage Woods 15-footer nestled in the cup followed by a very animated celebration. Woods knew this could have been his day if not for a couple of poor tee shots and some good fortune with two puts that a small gust of wind would have been enough to force in but a 64 -14 under par was a very decent round considering many didn’t think he would ever play professional golf again in his life, let alone challenge for his 15th major win.
Koepka kept his nerve throughout his back 9, picking up a couple of birdies to ease the pressure on himself, and was helped with his closest rival Adam Scott enduring a difficult final few holes to eventually take the trophy by one shot to Woods due to his birdie on the last.
One thing is for sure, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Brooks Koepka in the future. The now world number two has stamped his authority on the game, and looks to be the next big thing, following in Jordan Spieth’s footsteps.
Hopefully Woods has done enough in the last two majors to prove a great asset and player for the USA Ryder Cup team, which starts in September, and can use this experience next season to go for his 15th major championship, which he’ll know himself, is well within his capability