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LIV’s Brooks Koepka wins PGA Championship for 5th major title


ROCHESTER, N.Y. — In the final round of the 105th PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on Sunday, Brooks Koepka seemed determined to step on the gas early.

He had three straight birdies in the first four holes to open up a 4-shot lead over Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Canada’s Corey Conners. Then he held on when Hovland and Scottie Scheffler, two of the best players in the world, made their moves on the back nine.

Koepka carded a 3-under 67 in the final round Sunday and was 9 under over 72 holes to win the Wanamaker Trophy for the third time, beating Scheffler and Hovland by 2 strokes.

“To look back to where we were two years ago, I’m so happy right now,” Koepka said. “This is just the coolest thing.”

Koepka had warned us: Whatever was going on between his ears heading into Sunday at the Masters in April would never be muttered in his mind again. Koepka had a 2-shot lead heading into the final round at Augusta National Golf Club. He shot 3-over 75 in the final 18 holes and lost to Spain’s Jon Rahm by 4 strokes.

Even Koepka, one of the most confident golfers in the world, acknowledged this week that he choked while trying to win his first green jacket.

“I promise I won’t show up like [the Masters] tomorrow,” Koepka said Saturday. “I won’t have that thought process. It’ll be completely different and we’ll see where it puts me.”

Hovland had stayed within striking distance of Koepka until the par-4 16th hole, where he hit his drive into a fairway bunker. His second shot became embedded into the bunker’s face, leading to a double-bogey and ending his chances. Koepka had a birdie on the hole to take a 4-shot lead.

It is a historic victory for Koepka and the LIV Golf League, the Saudi Arabian-financed circuit that reportedly paid him $100 million in guaranteed earnings to lure him away from the PGA Tour in June. Koepka is the first LIV Golf League player to win a major championship.

“He’s been knocking on the door a lot and he’s been playing some really good golf,” said Phil Mickelson, another LIV Golf League captain. “And I think we’re all kind of expecting that to happen. … He’s been working really hard and it’s good to see him playing well.”

Over four days at one of the most difficult golf courses in the world, Koepka reaffirmed his position as perhaps the best major championship player of his era. He claimed his third PGA Championship title — he also won at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis in 2018 and Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York, the next year. He becomes only the third player to win the PGA Championship at least three times after it became a stroke-play event in 1958; Jack Nicklaus (five) and Tiger Woods (four) were the others.

Koepka, 33, also won the U.S. Open in back-to-back years, at Erin Hills in Wisconsin in 2017 and at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York in 2018. According to Justin Ray of the Twenty First Group, he becomes only the seventh player since 1950 to win five majors before age 34: Woods, Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Seve Ballesteros, Gary Player and Tom Watson also did it.

“I’m not even sure I dream of it as a kid, that I’d win that many,” Koepka said.

From 2015 through 2018, Koepka had a final-round scoring average of 68.9 in the majors. Nobody was better on golf’s biggest stages.

Koepka hasn’t said it, but we can assume that he believed he played too conservatively in the final round of the Masters. He came out firing at Oak Hill Country Club’s pins Sunday after rain from the day before softened the greens.

Koepka made par on the first hole and then carded three straight birdies to grab a 4-shot lead. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Koepka was the first 54-hole leader at a major in the past 20 years to start 3 under or better in his first four holes of the final round.

With the pin only 3 feet off the front and right on the par-4 second, Koepka hit his approach shot to 4½ feet. On the par-3 third, his tee shot stopped four feet from the hole, despite a stiff crosswind. He sank a 9-footer for birdie on the fourth. Koepka was cruising.

“When he gets in contention, he’s like a shark when there’s blood in the water,” Rahm said during CBS Sports’ broadcast Sunday.

Then, just like that, Koepka lost all of his momentum. After Hovland posted consecutive birdies on Nos. 4 and 5 and cut his deficit to 2 strokes, Koepka made his first big mistake. On the par-4, 481-yard sixth hole, he sliced his drive far to the right. His ball crossed over a native area and ended up in the deep rough left of the seventh fairway. Koepka was forced to take a drop and knocked his third shot onto the green. Hovland had a nice up-and-down out of a greenside bunker to save par on No. 6 and cut Koepka’s lead to 1 shot.

Koepka extended his lead to 2 strokes with another birdie on the par-4 10th. Koepka and Hovland traded blows on the back nine. Koepka added birdies on Nos. 12 and 14. Hovland had back-to-back birdies on Nos. 13 and 14. Then Hovland made the big mistake on No. 16.

It was redemption for Koepka, who acknowledged at the Masters that he might not have jumped to LIV Golf if his body had been in better shape a year ago. At the time, he was still recovering from a dislocated right knee. Koepka said he fell at home and tried to pop his kneecap back into place. In the process, he shattered his kneecap and ruptured his medial patellofemoral ligament.

“You know, my leg was sideways and out,” Koepka said at the time. “My foot was turned out, and when I snapped it back in because the kneecap had already shattered, it went in pretty good. It went in a lot easier.”

During the Netflix series “Full Swing,” Koepka seemed bruised and battered, wondering aloud if he could compete with the likes of Scheffler and other young stars any longer.

“I’ll be honest with you, I can’t compete with these guys, week in, week out,” Koepka said during a dinner at the 2022 Masters, where he missed the cut. “A guy like Scottie, he can shoot 63 every day. I don’t know.”

After posting a second consecutive 4-under 66 on Saturday, Koepka acknowledged that he “came back too soon and played for too long” and developed bad habits.

Koepka is healthy now and he’s performing like one of the best golfers in the world again. On Sunday, he might have earned the biggest victory in LIV Golf’s brief history.



Masters 2022 — ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this’ but Scottie Scheffler has a green jacket to show he was


AUGUSTA, Ga. — Fifteen minutes after Scottie Scheffler won the Masters, a golf cart rushed him to the back door of Butler Cabin. The only sounds came from a drone circling overhead and a few birds. His green jacket waited inside. He looked dazed. Of course he did. In the past 57 days, he won four tournaments, including a major, and changed everything about his life. He can’t ever go back to the way things used to be.

He’s 25 years old. This season he’s made $10 million. Inside the cabin he slipped that jacket on for the first time — taking it off so he could repeat the ceremony in front of a crowd waiting for him around the 18th green — and after finishing an interview, he came back outside. He still looked a little dazed and enjoyed a few long seconds of silence until he came back into view of the patrons, who started cheering and clapping.

“I don’t really know what to say …,” he said.

He broke down and cried this morning — “like a baby,” in his words –feeling just overwhelmed with the moment: One round of golf to win the Masters, and the tornado which can take over a life after something like that. He’s seen it hit people he knows, like Jordan Spieth. He turned to his wife in tears.

“I don’t think I’m ready for this,” he told her.

She made him a big breakfast and tried to calm him down. She said she loved him whether he won or lost by 10. They talked about their shared faith. He got to the course and began to prepare.

“Gosh, it was a long morning,” he said. “It was long. My stomach has been hurting for two days straight.”

Back in Texas, at the Royal Oaks Country Club, the members and staff prepared, too.

“It’s the calm before the storm,” head pro Dean Larsson told me Sunday morning.

Scheffler started playing there as a kid, after his parents took out a loan to join, all with the goal of following club members like Justin Leonard onto the PGA Tour.

“What’s really special,” Royal Oaks club president Todd Moen said, “[is] because Scottie grew up here, everybody has gotten to know him.”

His dream was to be a professional.

“I wore pants when I was a kid at Royal Oaks,” he said, “because I wanted to play golf on the PGA Tour.”

As a boy he wore those polo shirts and khakis to school, dressing like a touring pro. His classmates laughed.

“Rightfully so,” he said Sunday night, laughing, too.

As a schoolboy golf legend in his home state, he played in college at Texas. On Saturday afternoon, Longhorns golf coach John Fields answered his phone in an airport, taking his current team out to California for an event. He chose the tournament because it was designed by Alister MacKenzie, who also designed a little track called Augusta National. Fields wanted to prepare his guys for the biggest stages. Scheffler won that same tournament when he was a student. Fields watched the Masters on his phone as he waited at his gate. He’s almost part of the Scheffler family at this point. Five years ago, Scheffler played in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. He walked down the fairway next to Brooks Koepka, with his coach and father trailing behind. Scheffler’s dad turned to Fields.

“Do you think he’s gonna be out here one day?” he asked.

It’s funny now, but Scheffler’s dad really didn’t know. Fields did. He’d seen the real thing before — he coached Spieth, for instance — and he explained to his friend that the young man ahead of them was not only going to make the tour but build a career on it.

That prophecy has come true in the past 57 days.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Scheffler won his first tour event at the WM Phoenix Open. Back at the club, Moen bought a round of drinks for the 19th-hole crowd and raised a glass to Scheffler and to the club. Everyone roared. These were his people. Then Scheffler kept winning, at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He rocketed up the world golf rankings to No. 1. At Royal Oaks between victories, he still worked with the kids on the range, coming up with chipping and putting games, often going as long as an hour. Before leaving home to come to Georgia, he played a round with three members. Then he packed for the Masters. He couldn’t believe it. When his first invitation came in the mail, he teared up. These past 57 days, he’s been a young man living in a dreamscape.

“I don’t think anything has sunk in at the moment,” he said. “My head is still kind of spinning.”

He arrived in Augusta beneath the radar a bit, even with all his success. All eyes were on Tiger Woods, who was returning to competitive golf only 14 months after a car wreck nearly cost him his leg. Scheffler wasn’t even a year old when Woods won for the first time here.

“His YouTube clips are such an inspiration for me,” Scheffler said. “I remember watching the highlights of him winning in ’97, kind of running away with it, and he never really broke his concentration.”

Now Scheffler wears Tiger brand golf shoes and shirts, and uses his irons, although he’s probably got his own line of all three coming soon. He outplayed the legend on Thursday. On Friday, as Tiger’s surgically repaired knee began to fail him, Scheffler took the lead. He kept it Saturday and after his long night and fraught, tearful morning, he went out Sunday afternoon to defend it.

His toughest competition came from Rory McIlroy, who tied a final-round Masters record with a scorching 64. He birdied 18 and his roar echoed across the course. Rory had the biggest roars of the afternoon. Truth be told, the atmosphere on Sunday was muted. As Scheffler made his way home through the back nine, there were open spaces on the ropes which are often five and six deep for these coronation marches. More than a few people hoped for some sort of collapse to give McIlroy a shot at the career grand slam.

Scheffler didn’t fold.

Back at Royal Oaks, the 19th hole turned standing room only. When Scheffler chipped in on No. 3, the biggest shot of his life, the clubhouse erupted. A man ran around the room giving out high fives. Hole by hole, the room leaned in during the tense moments, feet digging into the red and yellow carpets. Guys drank from white Styrofoam cups.

When he birdied 14 and sealed the victory, grown men hugged and rubbed each other’s heads like school kids. They knew Scheffler as a child, and now he was going to win the same tournament as Ben Hogan, and Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods. A chant broke out in the room, calling for shots.

“Fireball! Fireball! Fireball!”