A Historic Third
The 100th edition of the PGA Championship, the final Major of the year was played at Bellerive Country Club. Traditionally the PGA is the last Major Championship to be held each year but this will be the last time that the best field in golf gathers in August to contest the Wanamaker Trophy. Beginning next year, the PGA will move to May.
Because this is a Ryder Cup year, the tournament is also the last event for which players can earn points to automatically qualify for the U.S. and European teams. Beginning the week, players like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Xander Schauffele and Matt Kuchar were all outside the top 9 point getters while European stars Sergio Garcia, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Henrik Stenson had not yet garnered the points need to qualify for their side.
Heavy rains had softened the course and made it gettable as evidenced by the 61 players who shot par or better (Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy were two of the players at even par). The leader after the first day was long hitting American Gary Woodland who shot a 6-under 65. That was good enough for a one shot advantage over fellow Americans, Rickie Fowler and Zack Johnson with South Africa’s Brendon Stone.
There were 11 players a shot further back at 3-under including superstars, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day and Justin Rose. They were joined by Americans: Austin Cook, Pat Perez, Brian Gay, Stewart Cink, Ollie Schniederjans and Kevin Kisner (who seems to contend in every Major these dyas), Englishman Ian Poulter and Belgian, Thomas Pieters.
Weather would bring Friday’s second round to an abrupt end with half of the field still on the course and faced with finishing their second round on Saturday morning. Of the players who finished, Woodland fashioned an impressive 4-under 66 to be at 10-under and in the lead by one over Kisner whose 64 would be the second best score of the day. The day’s best was a brilliant 63 from U.S. Open winner, Brooks Koepka leaving him at 8-under for the Championship and in a tie for 3rd with Fowler.
A further stroke behind were Dustin Johnson, South African Charl Schwartzel, Ireland’s Shane Lowry and Belgium’s Thomas Pieters all at 7-under heading into the weekend.
It was the unflappable Koepka who seized control of the Championship on Saturday, at one time commanding a 4 shot lead over the field with a series of stunning iron shots. Koepka would relinquish half of that lead with a double bogey on the 15th hole but his 66 was good enough to still leave him with a 2 shot advantage over Australian, Adam Scott.
Where have you been Adam Scott? The 38-year old was the #1 ranked player from May-August 2014 after becoming the first Australian to win the Masters in 2013 https://www.birdgolf.com/good-on-ya-mate/ . To further emphasize how fickle this grand pursuit can be, Scott doesn’t have a top 5 finish on any Tour in the last two years. His 5-under, 65 on Saturday vaulted him into second place alone at 10-under. Still possessed with one the best swings in golf, Scott has struggled mightily with his putter since the Anchoring ban was introduced in 2016 (Scott had long anchored the putter to his chest).
A further shot behind Scott at 9-under were Fowler (still looking for his first Major) and Woodland. There were six players a further shot behind at 8-under. Spain’s Jon Rahm equaled Scott’s 65 to be part of that sextet along with, Lowry, Day, Stewart Cink, Schwartzel and one Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods.
The 14-time major winner shot a thoughtful 66 to be only four shots off the lead and in contention again in a season that few thought he would be competitively relevant. It was just three weeks ago that Woods was in the lead on the final 9 of the Open Championship https://www.birdgolf.com/bravo/ . Doubt him at your own peril.
Sunday was shaping up to be a halcyon day in golf. It was.
As the players made the turn into the last 9, Koepka maintained a one stoke advantage over Thomas at 13-under, who was a hard charging 4-under for the day. Woods was also moving and a birdie from the trees on the par-4 10th hole saw him move to 11-under and tied with Scott.
Rahm and Pieters were a shot behind at 10-under but still very much in the race. It was as star studded a leaderboard as you will ever see and the stage was set for an epic finish.
Consecutive birdies by Scott on the 12th and 13th holes gave him a share of the lead with Koepka at 14-under with Woods two in arears at 12-under with 4 holes to play. Woods then did what the Woods of old would have done and flighted a sublime 9 iron to within a foot of the hole on the par-4 15th to close the gap to one.
Koepka would widen that gap to two when he birdied the 15th hole to reclaim the outright lead at 15-under. An ensuing birdie-2 on the par-3 16th and the 28-year old Floridian, who on occasion is so cool he makes Steve McQueen look uptight, and the tournament was his to lose with two to play.
Woods closed his round with a dramatic “Tigeresque” birdie on the 18th hole to record a 64 and a ”the slipper almost fit” second place, one better than Scott at 14-under. For those who questioned (your scribe included) his ability to contend again in the game’s biggest arenas, consider your doubts assuaged.
A par on the last and Koepka claimed a two shot victory with a 66 and a four day total of 16-under. It is Koepka’s third Major Championship and he has now won 3 of the last 7 Majors contested https://www.birdgolf.com/a-repeat/ which is today’s game, is extraordinary.
Koepka joins all-time greats, Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen as only the fifth man to win the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in the same year. His finishing total of 264 was the lowest in the annals of the PGA Championship.
A compelling argument can be made that Koepka is now the best player in the world but he has joined the rare pantheon of 3-time Major winners and is unquestionably making history. His own.