Mov­ing day

Two-time U.S. Open champ leads crowded, star-stud­ded leader­board by two strokes.

The Times-Tribune - - SPORTS - BY DOUG FER­GU­SON

Koepka in po­si­tion for sec­ond ma­jor of year; Tiger in hunt.

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).

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.”

As easy as it looks at times, Bel­lerive can still bite at any mo­ment.

Jor­dan Spi­eth found that out on a hole that ef­fec­tively ended his sec­ond bid for the ca­reer Grand Slam. From well right of the 12th fair­way, he tried to hit through a gap and in­stead car­omed off a tree and out-of­bounds, lead­ing to triple bo­gey and fall­ing back to 4 un­der for the tour­na­ment. He had to set­tle for a 69 and was eight shots be­hind, with 27 play­ers in front of him.

No one paid more dearly than Woodland. Three shots be­hind at the turn, he and Kevin Kis­ner were in a front bunker. Woodland went over the green onto a slope at the back of an­other bunker, and his next shot went through the green back into the first bunker. The sand had yet to be raked, and Woodland’s ball was in his foot­prints. He wound up with triple bo­gey, and scram­bled to get back in the mix.

“Re­ally con­fi­dent go­ing into to­mor­row with the way I fought the last eight holes,” he said.


Brooks Koepka watches his shot on the 15th hole dur­ing the third round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship at Bel­lerive Coun­try Club on Satur­day in St. Louis.

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