PITTSFORD, NY — Four years ago, when he was less than a week away from winning the PGA Championship for the second time in a row, Brooks Koepka allowed the world into his arrogant heart.
“There are 156 guys on the field, so I’m going to beat at least 80 of them,” he said on Bethpage in 2019. It’s probably down to around 35,” he added. “And after 35, some people are under pressure. There are only a few guys left, so it’s just a matter of beating them.”
If they keep fighting long enough, “good things will happen,” he reasoned.
He returned to the mix at last month’s Masters tournament, but surrendered the lead to Jon Rahm in the final round. And he’s all the rage this weekend at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club, where he posted a field-best 4-under 66 on a wet Saturday, one shot behind Corey Connors. , Viktor Hovland ahead of the round. He also had a tournament-leading 66 on Friday after posting a 72 on Thursday.
All of this includes a man with a serious medical history, a man who tried (and failed) to break a car window at Augusta National Golf Club after missing the Masters last year, and a man who just played a round on Thursday. whispered from a man He said, “It was the worst I’ve ever hit in a really long time.” He finished the day tied for 38th, just a day after declaring that the Try and Beat Me algorithm he detailed in 2019 was still working.
Perhaps he was right.
Of course there are pitfalls on Sundays. With tight, narrow fairways and roughs whose green hues make them look more attractive than they really are, Oak Hill has been a devilish test since Thursday’s first tee shot. After two rounds, there were only nine players below average. After three, that number dropped to his seven.
Connors held a two-shot lead for most of Saturday, but a front nine that went without a bogey helped Connors make his first major victory even more likely. Born in Ontario, not far from Oak Hill, the gallery favorite, energized by his win at the Texas Open in April, is confident in his putting and a welcome addition to a player with a reputation for proficient ball hitting. It’s the status it should be. However, he suffered a double bogey on the 16th hole and fell from the lead.
And Hovland was once again lurking near the top of the leaderboard all Saturday. He has been there before. Since the Open Championship began last year, he has finished in the top 10 after every round of major tournaments. After bogeying on two of the first five holes, the afternoon darkened quickly, but three birdies on the 14th put him in the lead. He hit a sand wedge from about 75 yards to just inside the edge of the green, but missed his birdie putt and settled for par. He also missed a birdie try on the 16th.
Rory McIlroy, Hovland’s playing partner in last year’s final round at St Andrews, six games away, rediscovered some of the form he had missed at the Masters and beyond. (Neither Hovland nor McIlroy won the open, leaving Cameron Smith with a claret jug.) McIlroy posted two straight days of 69s, often soaking wet, to 1-under for the first time in 2014. solidified his ambition to win a major. He is completely out of reach.
“Maybe I was a little bit better off the tee today than I was in the first few days, but I think the non-physical part of the game is much better in this tournament, especially in these conditions and on this golf course. “I think this week is more important than the physical part of the game,” McIlroy said Saturday. “And I think I did it well, which is why I’m in the position I am.”
Koepka hasn’t gone as long without a big win as McIlroy, but he’s been more prone to injuries in recent years. He started to improve early on Saturday, birdies on the 4th and 5th holes. Dubbed Little Poison at No. 5, his 179-yard tee shot landed cleanly on the green and made a putt for birdie. Unlike many other past major champions, including McIlroy, Scotty Scheffler and Bryson DeChambeau, Saturday he avoided a bogey on the disruptive par-4 6th, which has played closer to the 5th. .
The 13th’s second shot fell into the rough, leaving Koepka 96 yards to the hole. He landed on the green on his next stroke and made a birdie putt from about 18.5 feet. But that putt seemed lame on the 17th hole when Koepka rolled in from about 47 feet and made a putt.
One of the central questions heading into the tournament at Oak Hill was whether Koepka looked a lot like the player who punished nearly the entire field at Augusta. He then played in the LIV Golf League, where he performed moderately in Australia, finished 3rd in Singapore and finished 6th in Oklahoma last weekend.
Before the tournament near Tulsa, he reflected on how he enjoyed the rigors of the majors: “the discipline, the mental anguish that comes with it, and the focus.” After a few hours of despondency in Augusta, last week he said he couldn’t sleep and his arrogant heart suddenly turned away for answers. The answer took shape within days.
He said on Saturday that he’d learned to “never think what you thought going into the final round.”
“I will never do the same thing again for the rest of my career,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t play bad. You can play good and you can play bad. It can never be the reason.”
A win on Sunday would be his fifth major win, but it would be his first since that whirlwind week at Bethpage in 2019.
Others are not so well positioned. Rahm, who is number one in the Official World Golf Rankings, hit two overs on Saturday to extend his tournament score to six overs. Last year’s PGA champion Justin Thomas and two-time PGA champion Phil Mickelson pushed their score to 10-over after hitting five-overs on Saturday.
“This golf course is very difficult, but it all starts with putting the ball on the fairway,” said Rahm. “It’s not an easy job. It’s a bit of an effort to get there, but there are still factors, and there’s a limited amount of control, so there’s a bit of luck involved.”
Wet conditions were expected to subside and players expected the tees to return for Sunday’s final round. Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion, said the PGA of America is very adept at setting up.
“If they want us to hit a good score of 68, they will set it that way,” he said. “Certainly they can set it to a lower level if they want, but that would not suit the leaders. can catch up.”
But the world of chasers is small. Again, its members are tracking Koepka.