HomeBreaking NewsKoepka wins the PGA championship, defeating demons and powering up LIV

Koepka wins the PGA championship, defeating demons and powering up LIV

PITTSFORD, NY — Six weeks ago, on Sunday, Brooks Koepka didn’t sleep. He had musings to do and demons to chase. After all—the gruesome knee injury, the agony of unfulfilled ambition, the jeers and splenic crack in professional golf that he helped embody—he’d gotten a Masters lead and then faded away. . Collapsed, really.

He finally vowed, he recalled over the weekend at Oak Hill Country Club, that he would never “think the way I thought before the final round.” On Sunday night, Koepka found his vindication: a two-stroke victory at the PGA Championship, earning him his first major tournament trophy since 2019. It was the fifth major victory of Koepka’s career, tying him with figures like Seve Ballesteros and Byron Nelson.

“I think this is probably the most significant of all with everything that’s happened, all the crazy stuff over the last few years,” said Koepka, who said she had received about 600 text messages by the time she broke a story. . conference. “But it feels good to be back and get No. 5.”

The victory made him the first member of golf of lifethe one year breakaway league Funded by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, to win a major title since he arrived on the circuit. And while Koepka’s win in Oak Hill may do little to quench some of the criticism of LIV—its ties to a repressive government, its disputed intentions, its gleeful instigation of a financial arms race in an ancient sport—it definitely put an end to it. to the dispute over whether men who play some 54-hole tournaments can prevail on golf’s grandest 72-hole arenas.

“I definitely think it helps LIV,” Koepka said, “but I’m more interested in myself right now, to be honest with you.”

That’s okay, because it silenced the idea, which seemed a bit more out of place after the Masters, that his days of competition ended with a 3-under 67 on Sunday, bringing him to 9-under for the tournament. . But this is a 33-year-old whose results in the 2022 main season looked like this: cut missed, tied for 55th, only 55, cut missed. It had been easy to forget that in 2021, the sequence went like this: missed cut, tie for second, tie for fourth, tie for sixth.

At the end of last year, he had a feeling that his recovery was almost complete and that he might finally be relevant again. Around January, he has told himself, he was sure of it.

“He’s back to being healthy,” said Cameron Smith, who won the British Open last summer and then joined LIV later in the year. “I think that brings a little bit of inner confidence on top of being out there and just being able to do your thing.”

It didn’t seem as recent as Thursday, when the possibility of Koepka surviving a swarm of stars seemed closer to impossible than improbable. He had opened this tournament at 2-over-par 72 and, by his own account, was out of his mind and struggling to hit the ball the way he wanted. He couldn’t remember, he said, the last time he had hit so badly.

But he was not far behind because the tournament, the first important one that has been played in Oak Hill for great effort to restore some of the overwhelming evidence that characterize the courses designed by Donald J. Ross, emerged as one of the most fearsome PGA Championships in recent decades, often evoking the rigors of the 2008 competition at Oakland Hills in Michigan. Of the 156 players who competed last week, only 11 finished below par, a difference from 2013, when 21 players finished in the red at the PGA Championship at Oak Hill.

Stinginess came even with the course, with its rough and tumble dangerous bunkers, being more accommodating on Sunday than before. Smith, Cam Davis, Kurt Kitayama and Sepp Straka all shot 65 on Sunday, putting them atop the standings. Patrick Cantlay, who made one of the few eagles in the tournament, signed for a 66. michael blockwhose day job is being the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, southeast of Los Angeles, had a hole-in-one of No. 15, the first PGA Championship ace by a professional club since 1996.

But much of the attention on Sunday was on Koepka; Viktor Hovland, the Norwegian talent in the making; and Scottie Scheffler, the No. 2 player in the Official World Golf Ranking. Koepka, with his position withering from him due to his lucrative ties to LIV, whose tournaments are not accredited in the classification systemhe entered Sunday No. 44. (The PGA of America, which hosted this tournament, is different from the PGA Tour, LIV’s rival.)

Koepka came off the first tee with a one-shot lead and doubled his margin in no time when he birdied the second hole. He had played the hole at par the first three days, always reaching the green in two strokes but leaving with long putts. On Sunday, with the pin on the right front of the green, he needed less than 5 feet.

His birdie putt on the third hole required even less, after his longest tee shot of the tournament at the hole known as Vista, taking his lead to three shots.

The sixth hole, a threat to so many players throughout the tournament, loomed. Koepka had survived the hole, a challenging par-4 that the course finished averaging 4.52, pretty good on Thursday, Friday and Saturday: par in each of the first three rounds. On Sunday, however, his tee shot shot to the right into thick grass in the so-called native area. He dropped and then, about 191 yards from the hole, hit the green and finally escaped with a bogey. Although Koepka followed with another bogey, Hovland also stumbled at No. 7.

On the turn, Koepka led Hovland with one shot. Scheffler, a strong-voiced sensation since he won the Masters last year, and Bryson DeChambeauthe 2020 US Open winner was three off the lead.

Koepka responded with an enticing streak: birdie, bogey, birdie. Hovland had a chance to birdie the 12th hole, but his nearly 15-foot shot skirted just to the left of the cup. With six holes to play, Koepka’s lead was back to two shots. Two holes later, he was down to one.

But in almost every major race, there comes a time when one man’s victory seems inevitable. It may not be mathematically closed yet, but almost everyone knows the tournament is over before it’s actually over.

On Sunday, the setting for that moment was the 16th hole. It hadn’t been the most hellish in Oak Hill, far from it. However, Hovland will remember it.

His ball in a bunker after his tee shot, he gripped his 9-iron. With less than 175 yards to go, he took a swing and launched his ball, not toward the green, but toward the edge of the bunker. His fourth shot hit the green. He missed a bogey putt, leaving him with a double bogey. Koepka, in the twilight of her quest for his third PGA Championship victory, birdied to claim a four-shot lead.

“It’s not easy going toe-to-toe with a guy like that,” Hovland, who finished in the top seven for his third straight major, said of his duel with Koepka. “He’s not going to give you anything, and I didn’t really feel like I gave him anything until I was 16.”

Scheffler made a birdie putt on the 18th green soon after to narrow the path of Koepka. Koepka himself cut it further with a bogey on the No. 17.

He got to the 18th hole, playing 497 yards on Sunday, with two shots to spare. The tee shot went up and then slammed into the fairway, stopping at 318 yards. The towering grandstands waited in the distance, packed with spectators, as were the fairway-lined galleries, looking to see if Koepka had really returned after all.

His next swing brought the ball onto the green. The applause grew, seemingly with each step as he marched up the steep incline, the kind of incline that Koepka would have felt like Everest in the recent past. He knelt down—there were times, he said, when he couldn’t even bend his knee—and then went to the ball. He steadied himself and hit the ball forward.

It stopped, according to tournament officials, about 3 inches away.

He forced a smile, as if to say that, of course, there would be one last hiccup.

I try again. The ball fell into the cup. He raised his fist and then hugged his caddy for nearly nine seconds.

Sure enough, Koepka was back after all.

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