Brooks Koepka has retained his USPGA Championship title but the final round delivered a much-needed injection of drama into the tournament. Steve Rawlings looks back at all the action here...
"Some factions of the crowd were distastefully screaming ‘DJ’ repeatedly as Brooks attempted to arrest his slide and Johnson was matched at a low of just [2.54]. Nobody had ever lost a seven-stroke lead on the PGA Tour but it looked for a moment or two as though we were about to witness the first occurrence."
A duffed chip and a bogey at the first hole in round four by clear third-round leader and defending champion, Brooks Koepka, gave a tiny bit of encouragement to the chasers. It was a sign that there might just be a few nerves bubbling under that cast-iron calm exterior and it transpired to be a hint to the drama we would later witness.
Dustin Johnson, who had begun the final round seven adrift in a tie for second, got to within four after a birdie at the 10th but just as it looked as though it was going to get interesting, DJ bogeyed 11 and Brooks birdied 10. And just like that the gap was back to six.
It looked highly likely at that stage that Koepka was just going to cruise to a successful title defence and £323,000 was matched at just [1.03] but then everything changed quite quickly. Koepka bogeyed four holes in-a-row from the 11th and with DJ birdying the 15th, unbelievably, the gap was reduced to just a solitary stroke. We'd gone from damp squib to dramatic finale in no time at all.
Some factions of the crowd were distastefully screaming 'DJ' repeatedly as Brooks attempted to arrest his slide and Johnson was matched at a low of just [2.54]. Nobody had ever lost a seven-stroke lead on the PGA Tour but it looked for a moment or two as though we were about to witness the first occurrence.
Brooks was well aware of what was going on ahead of him and he was clearly feeling the heat but instead of applying yet more pressure, DJ made back-to-back bogeys at 16 and 17 to give Brooks some much-welcomed breathing space and it changed the complexion of the championship entirely. Pars at 15 and 16 were followed by a three-putt bogey at 17 for Koepka before he made a brilliant par after a poor drive on 18 to win by two.
Koepka, who was generally a [12.0] shot before the off, is the first player to win four majors in the space of two years and he's now won four of the last eight. The victory also sees him leapfrog both Justin Rose and DJ to return to the top of the world rankings.
Having backed Koepka before the off, it's been a decent week. As detailed in the In-Play Blog, I layed him back after the first round to cover my stakes and I layed him again in-running last night at [1.04]. It felt at the time as though I was being ultra-cautious and merely throwing money away and mainly because I was just too tired to follow the action intricately but when the drama unfolded on the back-nine I was really glad I'd done it. I'd had no intention of laying back anything and I was extremely confident of him winning but the way he played the first hole had spooked me a bit so I took my chance when it arose a few holes later.
I never mind laying back at really long odds-on. A dramatic finale is not a rare occurrence in golf but I'm glad he got the job done in the end and the fact that he won wire-to-wire was a bonus. I took 9/1 about there being a wire-to-wire winner when I looked at all the side markets on Wednesday so that was the icing on the cake.
The Bethpage Verdict
The record books will show that all bar seven men shot over-par for the week and that the world's two best players finished first and second. Brooks' -8 total was in-between the winning scores at the two US Opens and the winning scores at the two WGC events previously staged at Bethpage Black so the course set up was perfectly pitched and if the PGA wanted to kickstart their move to May with the perfect result they're not going to be disappointed.
On the whole, the 101st USPGA Championship has been a success but I do worry about how well the 2024 Ryder Cup will go when it's held here. The fans were largely just vociferous and good humoured but a few went beyond the pale as the drama unfolded. Repeatedly chanting DJ at Brooks as he tried to maintain his hold on the Championship was distasteful to say the least and it did make me wonder what on earth the Europeans are going to have to put up with in five years time.
Is Brooks value to rack up the US Open hat-trick?
We have to go back more than a century to find the only occasion anyone won the US Open three times in-a-row. Scottish migrant, Willie Anderson, having won the title for a first time in 1901, went on to win it another three times between 1903 and 1905. Following yesterday's win at Bethpage Black, Brooks Koepka is no bigger than 7/1 to emulate Anderson.
This year's renewal is at Pebble Beach Golf Links, scene of Tiger Woods' 15-stroke demolition in 2000 and Graeme McDowell's gutsy win in 2010. The only other three men to win the US Open there are Tom Kite, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus.
Pebble Beach is also the host course for the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, staged every February and won this year, for a fifth time, by Phil Mickelson. Brooks made his pro debut in 2012 so he wasn't in the field in the US Open in 2010 but he has played in the Pebble Beach Pro-Am - finishing eighth in his only start in the event back in 2016.
It's a little surprising that he hasn't been back there given he has strong links form at both the Alfred Dunhill Links (form figures read 50-9-2-7) and at the Open Championship. He's yet to quite threaten to win that major yet but he led after round one at Royal Birkdale two years ago and his Open Championship form figures read an impressive enough MC-67-10-6-39. There's absolutely no reason why he shouldn't play well at Pebble and he's more than capable of repeating Anderson's feat but I'm in no rush to back him at his current price.
Yesterday's win will have taken plenty out of Brooks and for the first time in a major he's looked vaguely vulnerable. Yesterday's scare might just alter his steadfast conviction and he may not be so convincing in-contention going forward.
Well, that's enough looking back, we've got a couple of nice events to look forward to again this week. The Made in Denmark makes a welcome return to Himmerland on Thursday and on the PGA Tour, we've got a new name for an old classic as we return to Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth Dallas for what's now called the Charles Schwab Challenge. I'll be back tomorrow with my previews.
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