Koepka avoids ma­jor col­lapse

7-shot lead drops to 1 be­fore go­ing on to win PGA

The News-Times - - SPORTS -

FARM­ING­DALE, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka took his place in PGA Cham­pi­onship his­tory with a wire-to-wire vic­tory, mi­nus the style points.

In a rag­ing wind that turned Beth­page Black into a beast, Koepka lost all but one shot of his record seven-shot lead Sun­day. He lost the bru­tal Long Is­land crowd, which be­gan chant­ing “DJ!” for Dustin John­son as Koepka was on his way to a fourth straight bo­gey.

But he de­liv­ered the key shots over the clos­ing stretch as John­son faded with two straight bo­geys, and Koepka closed with a 4-over 74 for a two-shot vic­tory and joined Tiger Woods as the only back-to­back win­ners of the PGA Cham­pi­onship since it went to stroke play in 1958.

Koepka said at the start of the week that ma­jors are some­times the eas­i­est to win.

This one should have been. It wasn’t.

His 74 was the high­est fi­nal round by a PGA cham­pion since Vi­jay Singh won in a play­off in 2004 at Whistling Straits.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to play any more holes,” Koepka said. “That was a stress­ful round of golf. I’m glad to have this thing back in my hands.”

Koepka ap­peared to wrap it up with a gap wedge from 156 yards to 2 feet on the 10th hole for a birdie, as John­son made his first bo­gey of the round up ahead on the 11th. That re­stored the lead to six

shots, and the coro­na­tion was on.

And then it all changed in a New York minute.

Koepka missed three straight fair­ways and made three straight bo­geys, hav­ing to make a 6-foot putt on No. 11 to keep it from be­ing worse. The wind was so fickle that it died as he hit 7-iron to the par-3 14th that sailed over the green, lead­ing to a fourth straight bo­gey.

The crowd sensed a col­lapse, and be­gan chant­ing, “DJ! DJ! DJ!” as Koepka was play­ing the hole. Ahead of him, John­son made birdie on the 15th — the tough­est hole at Beth­page Black all week — and

the lead was down to one.

That was as close as John­son got.

His 5-iron pierced through a wind that gusted close to 25 mph, over the green and into a buried lie. He missed the 7-foot par putt, went long of the green on the par-3 17th for an­other bo­gey and had to set­tle for 69.

“Hit the shot I wanted to right at the flag,” John­son said of his 5-iron from 194 yards on the 16th. “I don’t know how it flew 200 yards into the wind like that.

John­son now has run­ner-up finishes in all four of the ma­jors, the wrong kind of ca­reer Grand Slam.

“I gave it a run,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for.”

Koepka re­turned to No. 1 in the world with a per­for­mance that de­fines his dom­i­nance in golf’s big­gest events.

He be­comes the first player to hold back-to-back ti­tles in two ma­jors at the same time, hav­ing won a sec­ond straight U.S. Open last sum­mer 60 miles down the road at Shin­necock Hills. He was the first wire-to-wire win­ner in the PGA Cham­pi­onship since Hal Sut­ton at Riviera in

1983.

And what stakes his claim as one of the best in his gen­er­a­tion was a third straight year win­ning a ma­jor. He joins a most elite group — only Woods, Phil Mick­el­son, Tom Wat­son, Jack Nick­laus and Arnold Palmer have done that since the Mas­ters be­gan in

1934.

He now has four ma­jors in his last eight, a streak not seen since Woods won seven out of 11 when he cap­tured the 2002 U.S. Open at Beth­page Black.

Next up is the U.S. Open at Peb­ble Beach, where Koepka de­fends his ti­tle for the sec­ond time. No one has won the U.S. Open three straight years since Wil­lie An­der­son in 1905. No one will doubt whether Koepka is ca­pa­ble the way he is play­ing.

Koepka kept it in­ter­est­ing to the end, three-putting the 17th as the lead went back to two shots, and pulling his driver on the 18th into fes­cue so thick it left him lit­tle choice but to lay up and scram­ble for par. Once his medium lob wedge set­tled 6 feet away, he could re­lax.

Fi­nally.

Pa­trick Smith / Getty Im­ages

Brooks Koepka poses with the Wana­maker Tro­phy dur­ing the Tro­phy Pre­sen­ta­tion Cer­e­mony af­ter win­ning the PGA Cham­pi­onship at the Beth­page Black course on Sun­day in Farm­ing­dale, N.Y.

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