Koepka takes 2-shot lead at PGA

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

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 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 be­fore fad­ing.

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.”

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-of-bounds, 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.

Koepka al­most headed down that direc­tion. He had to make an 8-foot par save on the 13th. He couldn’t save par with a 100-foot bunker shot on the 14th af­ter a poor drive, and his tee shot on the 15th set­tled be­hind a tree, forc­ing him to take re­lief with a penalty shot. He got up-and-down to es­cape with bo­gey. And as Woods was mov­ing into po­si­tion for a po­ten­tial ea­gle, Koepka made a 10-foot par save on the 16th.

“To avoid mak­ing three bo­geys in a row was very big,” he said.

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 even­par 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.

CHAR­LIE RIEDEL — AP

Brooks Koepka re­acts af­ter a birdie on the 17th green dur­ing the third round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship at Bel­lerive Coun­try Club, Satur­day in St. Louis.

BRYNN AN­DER­SON - AP

Brooks Koepka ac­knowl­edges the gallery as he walks to the 18th green dur­ing the third round of the PGA Cham­pi­onship golf tour­na­ment at Bel­lerive Coun­try Club, Satur­day, Aug. 11, 2018, in St. Louis.

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