If it was not already official, it is now: Brooks Koepka is the PGA Tour’s current King of the Majors.
He began the final round of the 100th PGA Championship with a two-stroke lead, but had to withstand the best major effort in over a decade from arguably the best golfer in history in Tiger Woods, who shot his lowest final-round score in an illustrious career that includes 14 major championships; the best from a resurgent former World No. 1 in Adam Scott – the owner of perhaps the prettiest swing golf has ever seen; a front-nine tear from defending champion Justin Thomas, who has eight PGA Tour wins over the past two seasons; and furious challenges from a stacked leaderboard comprised of elite names such as Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, and Francesco Molinari.
Koepka’s final round 4-under 66 at Bellerive Country Club just outside of St. Louis, Missouri, got him to 16-under for the week, two clear of runner-up Woods.
Koepka has now claimed three titles in his last six major starts, and he became the fifth golfer in PGA Tour history to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year, joining a fraternity that only includes Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
In the understatement of the century, Koepka noted after his round that the majors “get his attention” as 75% of his career victories (3 of 4) have now come in majors. When the stakes are highest, Koepka is at his best, and the rest of the PGA Tour has to be feeling dejected knowing that at just 28 years of age, they will have to compete with Koepka in these high-stake events for at least another 20 years.
Major championship golf will not be back for another 242 days. In that too-long meantime, Koepka will unequivocally hold the title of best major championship golfer on the planet.
FINAL TOP 10
1 Brooks Koepka -16
2 Tiger Woods -14
3 Adam Scott -13
4 Stewart Cink -11
4 Stewart Cink -11
6 Gary Woodland -10
6 Justin Thomas -10
6 Francesco Molinari -10
6 Thomas Pieters -10
10 Tyrrell Hatton -9
10 Rafa Cabrera Bello -9
12 Jordan Spieth -8
12 Kevin Kisner -8
12 Rickie Fowler -8
19 Jason Day -7
19 Webb Simpson -7
19 Zach Johnson -7
19 Justin Rose -7
27 Dustin Johnson -6
27 Patrick Cantlay -6
31 Ian Poulter -5
35 Xander Schauffele -4
35 Hideki Matsuyama -4
35 Xander Schauffele -4
42 Charl Schwartzel -3
42 Tony Finau -3
42 Jimmy Walker -3
50 Rory McIlroy -2
56 Thorbjorn Olesen -1
71 Joaquin Niemann +2
71 Jim Furyk +2
HOW BROOKS KOEPKA WON THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
The Columbia Broadcasting System, better know by the acronym CBS, should be very grateful to Koepka. During Saturday’s third round, the young Floridian came roaring out of the gate with birdies on Nos. 1, 2, 5, 8 and 9 to turn with a five-stroke lead, and appeared on the cusp of a blowout. But a back nine of two bogeys against one birdie allowed the the field to close the gap – most notably, TV ratings darling Woods.
On Sunday, Koepka birdied his first hole, but the looked vulnerable for the first time all week, playing his next five holes in 2-over. During that stretch, defending champion Thomas used a front-nine surge to tie for the lead, and very nearly took the solo-lead on the 9th hole when his 11-foot birdie chance skidded past the hole.
Thomas then inexplicably missed the comeback to card a bogey, and soon, Koepka was back up by two. That lead was extended further when Koepka emerged from his front-nine funk and carded birdies on Nos. 7, 8, and 9 to go out in 2-under 33 and retake control of the tournament.
Still, things never got easy for Koepka. While he would go on to play his back-nine bogey-free, he again fell into a tie, this time with playing partner Scott, a player who made the field on a sponsor’s exemption and had just one top-10 in 18 starts this season.
Coming down the closing stretch, it became a three-man battle, with just Koepka, Scott, and Woods having a realistic chance of leaving St. Louis with the Wanamaker Trophy.
Koepka birdied Nos. 15 and 16 to again get multiple strokes out front, and despite great efforts from Scott and Woods (Tiger birdied 12, 13, 15, and 18), nobody was quite able to reach the 28-year old bomber.
When Scott’s six-foot birdie try on the 17th missed the cup, Koepka had a two-stroke advantage with just one hole to go. Four shots later, Koepka earned his second victory of the season – both major titles.
Koepka’s 72-hole score of 264 (-16) is a major championship record.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR BROOKS KOEPKA
The perennially-overlooked Koepka now owns three career major championships which ties him on the all-time list with PGA legends such as Cary Middlecoff, Billy Casper, Jimmy Demaret, Nick Price, Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin, and Vijay Singh.
Koepka will now elevate to a career high No. 2 in the Official World Golf Rankings, behind only good friend Dustin Johnson.
Barring (maybe) a ridiculous run in the FedExCup playoffs from Open Champion Molinari or Masters champion Patrick Reed, Koepka is a lock for his first PGA Tour Player of the Year award.
Perhaps imputed to having nothing resembling a social media presence, the laconic Koepka has not really had the profile deserving a two-time major winner, but now with three… that could change. His impressive resume combined with objectively good looks SHOULD lead to skyrocketing popularity in the professional sports world.
Despite Koepka holding the solo or co-lead for the entire final round, the biggest crowds were gathered around Tiger Woods, who was attempting to capture his first win in over five years (2013), and first major in over 10 years (2008 U.S. Open).
Despite missing every fairway on the front nine, Tiger turned in 3-under par thanks to a pristine iron game reminiscent of his early 2000s self.
He kept hot on the back nine, matching his four birdie, one bogey 32 from the front nine, while hitting 5 of 7 fairways, and gaining 3.1 strokes on the field tee-to-green and an addition 2.2 with his putter.
It did not quite lead to the 15th career major victory which the crowd was undoubtedly pulling for, but a 64 was his all-time lowest final round in a major, and he proved that he is nowhere near done on the biggest stages.
On another note, despite missing the entire 2017 season while recovering from a series of back surgeries, Tiger finished 11th in the final American Ryder Cup Standings. While that was not enough to qualify automatically (the top 8 as of today made it), it would be considered shocking if Tiger is not one of Jim Furyk’s captain picks, three of four which are due in three weeks.
ALSO STARRING ON SUNDAY
The big surprise on the 54-hole leaderboard was the No. 2 position of Adam Scott, a former Masters Champion and World No. 1 who has struffled badly for the past two seasons. He only made the field on a sponsor’s exemption, but he more than proved he belonged with rounds of 70, 65, and 65 over the first three rounds.
Scott bogeyed the first hole on Sunday, but he composed himself and played his next 16 holes in a bogey-free 5 under to keep pressure on Koepka nearly all day.
A missed birdie putt on 17 mostly ended his chances, while a bogey on the 18th hole knocked him out of the top 2, but a final-day 67 placed him solo-third, his best finish in a major since his victory at the 2013 Masters.
Two players tied Tiger’s 64 for the low round of Sunday, and for both players, it meant a top 10 finish.
Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello was bogey-free in his 6-under 64 and was an impressive 4-for-4 in sand saves. Cabrera Bello had been extremely underwhelming since March, and was on the outside looking in on the European Ryder Cup standings, but this finish, combined with his tremendous showing at the 2016 Ryder Cup should greatly improve his chances.
The other 64 came from a man who has already clinched a spot on that European Ryder Cup Team, England’s Tyrrell Hatton. Hatton was also bogey-free on Sunday, and his T10 at the PGA Championship marks the end of an impressive major season where he made all four cuts after missing the cut in all four 2017 majors. Hatton co-led the field for the week in greens in regulation.
STUMBLING ON SUNDAY
For at least another eight months, Rickie Fowler will hold onto his dubious unofficial position atop the list of best players without a major.
At 9-under par through three rounds, Fowler was just three strokes off the lead and made the penultimate Sunday pairing, but continued his disturbing recent trend of Sunday struggles with a 1-over 71 that included just a single birdie.
Fowler will remain in the world top 10 for now, but he has guaranteed that he will not win a major in his 20s, as he turns 30 in December. In the final round, Fowler dropped from T3 to T12.
With five consecutive top 15 PGA Championship finishes, including a victory in 2015, Jason Day has earned a reputation as something of a PGA Championship specialist. He looked on his way to another great finish when he reached 8 under through 54 holes, but after getting within two of Koepka after birdies on Nos. 2 and 6, Day failed to card a single birdie the rest of the way. His Tour-leading putting stroke let him down on day four, and a 1-over 71 dropped him all the way into a tie for 19th place.
Among those in contention to begin the day, the biggest Sunday drop came from former Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel, who tied the tournament record on Friday with a 7-under 63. After carding 15 birdies over the first three rounds, Schwartzel failed to play a single Sunday hole under par, leading to a 5-over 75 that dropped him 36 spots down the final leaderboard, into a tie for 42nd place.
“It was kind of the first time Tiger’s been in contention and I’ve been in contention at the same time, so the fans definitely let you know what he was doing. And I was playing with Scotty, so I knew what I was up against. And Scotty played unbelievably well and so did Tiger. They definitely made me question it there for a bit or think about it, for sure” ~ Brooks Koepka, PGA Championship Winner