Koepka survives Bethpage Black to win PGA Championship
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — 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-to-back 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.
The 29-year-old Floridian is an imposing figure, a power off the tee and out of the rough with no obvious weakness in his game and the kind of mental fortitude that majors require. He needed all of it over the final hour of this one.
Koepka doesn’t know his resting heart rate, and he said on the eve of the final round that it probably was not much different on the first tee of a major than when he was chilling on his couch. But he could feel this one getting away from him. He could sense Johnson making a charge. He could hear it.
“How could you not with the ‘DJ’ chants,” Koepka said. “I heard everything.”
Bethpage has a reputation for being over the top, and it irritated Harold Varner III, who shot 81 playing in the final group.
“I thought it was pretty weird how they were telling Brooks to choke,” Varner said about the 14th hole. “That’s not my cup of tea. I was pulling for him after that.”
Koepka held it together at the most crucial moment. He piped his driver down the 15th fairway and two-putted for par. And he drilled another one into the 16th, which played the most difficult in the final round because it was into the wind.
Johnson hit 5-iron just over the green. The wind died enough 20 minutes later that Koepka hit 7-iron only to 50 feet and had another good lag putt to get par.
He 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.
Woods won the Wanamaker Trophy in consecutive years twice, in 1999 and 2000, and again in 2006 and 2007. Koepka was starting to draw comparisons with Woods for the way he obliterated the competition, much like Woods in his 12-shot victory in the 1997 Masters and 15-shot victory in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Koepka tied the PGA Championship record by opening with a 63. He broke the major championship record for 36 holes at 128. He set another PGA Championship record with his seven-shot lead. In the end, just having his name on the heaviest championship trophy in golf was all that mattered.
Jordan Spieth registered his first top 10 since the British Open last summer with a 71 to finish at 2-under 278, six shots behind. He tied for third with Patrick Cantlay (71) and Matt Wallace (72).
This really was a two-man race over the back nine that not many would have seen coming at the start of the final round.
Only the outcome was expected.
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