Koepka in Driver’s Seat

U.S. Open champ takes 2-shot lead af­ter three rounds

New Haven Register (Sunday) (New Haven, CT) - - SPORTS -

ST. LOUIS — Two-time U.S. Open cham­pion Brooks Koepka took a step to­ward adding a third ma­jor to his short list of vic­to­ries.

Koepka bul­lied rain-soft­ened Bel­lerive on Satur­day on the front nine and built a four-shot lead, only to run into a bad patch that brought a strong list of con­tenders into the mix — in­clud­ing Tiger Woods — go­ing into the fi­nal round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship.

Even with back-to-back bo­geys on the back nine, Koepka had a 4-un­der 66 for a two-shot lead over Adam Scott, the 2013 Mas­ters cham­pion who has been strug­gling through his worst sea­son in nearly two decades. Scott had a 65 to get into the fi­nal group.

Gary Wood­land lost his way in his foot­prints in a bunker and made triple bo­gey on No. 10, fall­ing six shots be­hind, and still man­aged a 71 to stay within three shots of the lead, along with Jon Rahm (66) and Rickie Fowler (69).

The big­gest buzz, as al­ways, be­longed to Woods.

Com­ing off a three-putt bo­gey on the fifth hole, Woods ran off three straight birdies to get in range, only to stall on the back nine like he has done so of­ten this year. He hit a 4-iron so pure on the par-5 17th hole that he im­me­di­ately be­gan walk­ing off to it, and thou­sands of fans roared when it set­tled 20 feet from the hole for an ea­gle that could have brought him within one of the lead.

He missed. And then he missed the next from 4 feet for birdie and ended his day with 10 straight pars. Woods had to set­tle for a 66, and by the time ev­ery­one else came through the 17th hole, he slipped back to a tie for sixth, four shots out of the lead.

That’s the same po­si­tion he was in go­ing into the fi­nal round of the British Open at Carnoustie, where he led briefly in the fi­nal round be­fore fad-


Now he gets an­other shot, and it most likely will take an­other round like Satur­day.

“Not just my­self, but ev­ery­one’s go­ing to have to shoot low rounds,” Woods said. “It’s soft, it’s get­table, and you can’t just go out there and make a bunch of pars.”

Koepka was at 12-un­der 198 and will play in the fi­nal group of a ma­jor for the first time. He won in

the penul­ti­mate group at the U.S. Open each of the last two years.

He al­ready bur­nished his rep­u­ta­tion two months ago by win­ning a U.S. Open on two en­tirely dif­fer­ent cour­ses — one at Erin Hills with a record-ty­ing score of 16-un­der par, the other at Shin­necock Hills where he sur­vived to win at 1-over par.

He has only one other PGA Tour vic­tory, one in Europe and two in Ja­pan. But put him against the strong­est fields and the big­gest events, and he’s a world-beater.

This test fig­ures to be dif­fer­ent.

Bel­lerive is so soft that a charge can come from any­where.

“I’ve watched Tiger win 14 of these things hang­ing around a lot of the time,” Scott said. “He ran away with a few, for sure, but he hung around for a lot. And I would love to hang around to­mor­row. And that might mean shoot­ing 5 un­der again to hang around, but I would love to be in the mix com­ing down the stretch and have the chance to hole some putts to win.”

Ten play­ers were within four shots of the lead, which in­cludes de­fend­ing cham­pion Justin Thomas (68), Ja­son Day (67) and Ste­wart Cink, the 2009 British Open cham­pion who played with Woods and matched his 66.

“It’s a pretty in­tense en­vi­ron­ment out there. It’s fun,” Cink said. “Hear­ing the crowd, and Tiger’s per­form­ing great, it was like turn­ing back the hands of the clock.”

Woods and Fowler were among those just happy to get off the course. They had to fin­ish their sec­ond

rounds on Satur­day morn­ing be­cause of rain that del­uged Bel­lerive late Fri­day af­ter­noon. Woods played 29 holes, while Fowler played 26.

No one caught Wood­land, mean­ing his 36-hole score of 130 stood as the PGA Cham­pi­onship record. The cut was an­other record, com­ing at even-par 140 and knock­ing out the likes of Phil Mickelson. That means Mickelson will fail to au­to­mat­i­cally qual­ify for the Ry­der Cup team for the first time since his first full sea­son on the PGA Tour in 1993.

Brynn An­der­son / As­so­ci­ated Press

Brooks Koepka ac­knowl­edges the gallery as he walks to the 18th green dur­ing the third round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship at Bel­lerive Coun­try Club on Satur­day in St. Louis.

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