Fresh off being named the 2018 PGA Tour Player of the Year, Brooks Koepka started his new season as well as anyone possibly could: with a win.
Shooting a final-round 8-under 64 in pristine scoring conditions on Jeju Island in South Korea, the reigning U.S. Open and PGA Champion validated his status as the best golfer of 2018 by winning the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges by four strokes over Gary Woodland.
Starting the final day with a four stroke lead, Koepka held off a furious rally from Woodland, who pulled even for the lead with a hot start, and then outdueled the bomber on the back nine, coming in with a sizzling 7-under 29 to take the CJ Cup title in the second year of its existence.
Koepka and Woodland were among a handful of players to obliterate a usually-difficult Nine Bridges Golf Club. Woodland’s blazing start resulted in a 9-under 63, which was outdone only by Ryan Palmer, who set the club record with birdies on his final seven holes en route to a 10-under 62.
Adam Scott matched Woodland’s 63, while several others either equaled Koepka’s 64, or finished within one Sunday-stroke.
By winning the CJ Cup, Koepka also achieved another milestone: World No. 1, as he supplanted Dustin Johnson atop the Official World Golf Rankings with his triumph in the Far East. It was the 28-year-old Koepka’s fifth career PGA Tour victory, although just his second in a non-major.
FINAL TOP 10
Pos-Player-To Par (Today)
1. Brooks Koepka -21 (-8)
2. Gary Woodland -17 (-9)
3. Ryan Palmer -15 (-10)
3. Rafael Cabrera Bello -15 (-7)
5. Jason Day -12 (-5)
5. Scott Piercy -12 (-3)
7. Pat Perez -11 (-3)
7. Chez Reavie -11 (-3)
7. Cameron Smith -11 (-3)
10. Ian Poulter -10 (-1)
10. Adam Scott -10 (-9)
10. JJ Spaun -10 (-4)
10. Adam Hadwin -10 (-8)
Pos-Player-To Par (Today)
14. Tyrrell Hatton -9 (-6)
18. Marc Leishman -8 (-6)
18. Hideki Matsuyama -8 (-3)
18. Paul Casey -8 (-2)
23. Danny Willett -7 (-7)
23. JB Holmes -7 (-2)
29. Jimmy Walker -6 (-7)
29. Louis Oosthuizen -6 (-3)
36. Justin Thomas -5 (-4)
36. Joaquin Niemann -5 (-3)
36. Brandt Snedeker -5 (-5)
48. Branden Grace -3 (-4)
48. Xander Schauffele -3 (-7)
52. Kevin Tway -2 (E)
61. Ryan Moore E (-1)
67. Billy Horschel +2 (-1)
HOW BROOKS KOEPKA WON THE 2018 CJ CUP
By shooting 65-67 in the middle rounds, Koepka gave himself a four-stroke cushion over Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy heading into Sunday’s finale.
Given his status as one of the world’s unquestioned elites, overcoming that gap appeared daunting, but Woodland proved himself more than up to the challenge. Beginning the day five strokes behind Koepka, Woodland carded six front-nine birdies to tie for the lead early. When the back-nine began, the tournament essentially turned into match-play between the two very long hitters.
Koepka showed some unsteadiness early with bogeys on Nos. 2 and 4, and playing the front-nine in a comparatively-mediocre 1-under par. However, Koepka took control of the tournament on the back nine, appearing tremendously confident with gains on Nos. 10, 12, 13, 15, and 16 – the latter comprising a pitch-in birdie to deliver the proverbial nail in the coffin.
An eagle-3 on the par-5 final hole, made the winning margin equal to the lead Koepka enjoyed to begin the final day.
Koepka’s final score of 21-under 267 was an unbelievable 12-strokes better than the 279 Justin Thomas won with last year, the inaugural edition of the tournament. Red numbers were again tough to come by on Thursday, but the 78-man field enjoyed much easier scoring conditions over the tournament’s final three days.
Koepka’s 11 fairways (out of 14) hit on Sunday was his best for the week, as he also tied his week’s best by hitting 15 of 18 greens in regulation.
WHAT CJ CUP WIN MEANS FOR KOEPKA
Koepka arrived in Jeju Island as the highest-ranked player in the field (No. 2), so his win was not a surprise, but his form had been somewhat in question as he sputtered at the finish of the 2018 season, playing poorly at the Tour Championship (26th out of 30 players), and displaying an uneven performance for the losing American squad at the Ryder Cup.
Now, nothing about Koepka is in question. With four victories in the past season-and-a-half, including wins at three of the past seven majors, Koepka has asserted himself as the very best golfer in the entire world. He was already passing the eye test with flying colors, and now the OWGR accurately reflects the state of his game as well.
Koepka has proven himself nearly untouchable when his confidence is flowing, as it was on the back nine at Nine Bridges.
Koepka will not get much time to revel in his latest victory; the new World No. 1 will be in the field for this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, China, an event where he finished co-runner-up one year ago.
SUNDAY STARS AT NINE BRIDGES
Ryan Palmer enjoyed few highlights in a pedestrian 2018 season, with a January T2 being his best result by far, but on Sunday in South Korea, he showcased some of the best golf of his life.
Beginning the day outside the top 10, Palmer crept up the board with a 3-under front-nine, but exploded on the back, carding birdies on each of the final seven holes to shoot an eye-popping 10-under 62, setting the course record in the process.
Perhaps more shockingly, even with a 10-birdie final round, Palmer was just T6 for the week in birdies. Woodland, who had 11 Sunday birdies, led the field for the week with 27 (an average of 6.75 per 18 holes).
Since contending at the PGA Championship, and posting a T5 in the first round of the FedExCup Playoffs, Adam Scott has been hitting relatively poorly, but he was dialed in on Sunday at Jeju Island. Scott vaulted 33 spots up the final leaderboard with his Sunday bogey-free 9-under 63, finishing T10 in his first official event of the new wrap-around season.
Palmer was not the only player in the Sunday field to card seven consecutive birdies, as Xander Schauffele equaled the feat with birdies on the final four holes of his front nine (the actual back nine), and then the first three holes on his back nine. At T48, Schauffele was an enormous disappointment outside of the seven-hole birdie binge, but he did shoot a final round 7-under 65 to finish 3-under for the week.
SUNDAY STUMBLES IN SOUTH KOREA
A 1-under 71 on Sunday would have looked great last year, or even on Thursday for that matter, but for Ian Poulter, it knocked him from T2 to T10 on the final day.
Playing in the final grouping with Koepka and Scott Piercy, Poulter had just three birdies on Sunday, and the latter of his two bogeys was a disappointing 6 on the 18th hole, which Koepka had eagled.
As mediocre of a final round as Poulter had, it was still two strokes better than what Jamie Lovemark posted. A birdie-4 on the final hole was the only birdie on Sunday for Lovemark, whose 1-over 73 dropped him from fourth place into a tie for 23rd.
Abraham Ancer has been in excellent form as of late, contending at last month’s Dell Technologies Championship and finishing T5 at last week’s CIMB Classic, but the 27-year-old Mexican was an absolute disaster on Sunday in South Korea.
Ancer’s final round 8-over 80(!) was not just the worst score in the field, it was the worst score by five strokes. Most of Ancer’s implosion happened mid-round as he chased back-to-back double-bogeys on 8 and 9 with bogies on 10 and 11. Ancer plummeted 42 spots on Sunday, finishing 6-over par for the week. Only three players in the field were worse.
“I’ve gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it’s incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It’s something I’m so excited right now, you have no idea. I just can’t wait to go play again.”
– Brooks Koepka