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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.



Dustin Johnson wins the Masters with lowest score in tournament history

AUGUSTA, Ga. — In this one-of-a-kind Masters that had no fans and no roars, Dustin Johnson made sure it had no drama.

And when he polished off his five-shot victory Sunday with the lowest score in tournament history, he had no words. Only tears.

Looking smart in the Masters green jacket he dreamed his whole life of winning, Johnson spoke to a small gathering on the putting green in absence of the official ceremony, but only briefly. In control of every aspect of his game on a course that never allows anyone to relax, he couldn’t speak when it was over. Instead, he turned to wipe his eyes.

“I’ve never had this much trouble gathering myself,” Johnson finally said. “On the golf course, I’m pretty good at it.”

No one was better. Not even close.

Johnson overcame a nervous start that conjured memories of past majors he failed to finish off, and then delivered a commanding performance that added his own touch to a Masters unlike any other. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was the first played in November. It was the first without ropes and without roars because patrons were not allowed — only one guest for each player, coaches, Augusta National members and officials.

Leading by two shots heading into Amen Corner, the world’s No. 1 player got through the 12th hole — where Tiger Woods earlier hit three balls in Rae’s Creek and made 10 — and then ran off three straight birdies to pull away from Cameron Smith and Sungjae Im, the only players who had a chance.

Johnson closed with a 4-under 68 and finished at 20-under 268, breaking by two shots the record set by Woods in 1997 and matched by Jordan Spieth in 2015. He had only four bogeys in 72 holes, another record, this one held by Jack Nicklaus and Jimmy Demaret. He missed only 12 greens all week, a record last set by Woods. All that mattered was that green jacket.

Nothing ever comes easily for Johnson in the majors. Nothing looked so natural as seeing Woods, the defending champion, help him into that size 42 long in Butler Cabin.

“Having Tiger put it on was awesome. You wouldn’t want it any other way,” Johnson said.

And then he smiled before adding, “But any guy could put it on me and I’d be just fine.”

His five-shot victory was the largest at the Masters since Woods won by 12 in 1997. All that was missing were the roars from a crowd for any of his pivotal putts early and his birdie putts on the back nine that put it away. It wasn’t the loneliest walk up the hill to the 18th green. About 250 people offered warm applause, and partner Paulina Gretzky rushed onto the green to celebrate with Johnson and his brother, caddie Austin Johnson.

Johnson now has two majors to go along with his 25 victories worldwide, a combination that validates him as one of the greats of his generation. Gone are the doubts that he could hold a lead in the major on the final day. Four times he had gone into the final round with at least a share of the lead without winning.

Johnson had questions, too. His only major was the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 2016 when he rallied from four shots behind.

“I’m sure a lot of you all think … there were doubts in my mind, just because I had been there. I’m in this position a lot of times,” Johnson said. “When am I going to have the lead and finishing off a major? It definitely proved that I can do it.”

There were some nervous moments early.

Johnson’s four-shot lead was reduced to one after five holes, and then he quickly restored control with an 8-iron to 6 feet on the top shelf on the right corner of the green at the par-3 sixth for birdie. That restored his lead to three shots when Im missed a 3-foot par putt.

Smith was the only one who was closer than two the rest of the way. He got quite the consolation. He became the first player in Masters history to post all four rounds in the 60s, and all it got him was a silver medal.

“I thought I’d have a decent shot if I got to Dustin’s original score at the start of the day, 16 under,” Smith said. “I knew I had to put the pressure on early. Got out of the gates pretty good, and DJ was just too good at the end.”

Johnson became the 12th Masters champion never to trail after any round, and his closing 68 broke another record held by Woods — it was his 11th consecutive subpar round at Augusta National.

No one had a better finish than Woods, but only after the five-time Masters champion posted the highest score of his career on the 12th hole. He finished with five birdies over the last six holes to salvage a 76.

The betting favorite and biggest basher in golf, Bryson DeChambeau, couldn’t even beat 63-year-old Bernhard Langer, who shot 71 and wound up one shot ahead of the U.S. Open champion.

These were only sideshows on a quiet Sunday at Augusta National. Johnson, the first No. 1 player in the world to win the Masters since Woods in 2002, was the main event. But even a record score, and the widest margin of victory since 1997, didn’t mean it was easy.

This is Johnson, after all, who for all his talent has dealt with more than his share of misfortune, not all his own doing.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” he said.

After the big turning point at No. 6, and his nifty par save from a bunker on the seventh, Johnson didn’t bother looking at a leaderboard until his brother asked if he knew where he stood on the 18th green. Johnson knew only that he was in control and it was up to everyone else to catch him.

“I took what the course gave me and hit the shots I felt I could hit,” he said.

And so ended the Masters in November, so strange in so many ways. No roars from Amen Corner. Soft conditions — not only from rain that delayed the start, but an autumn date that affected the grass — led to record scoring. The average score for the week was 71.75, the lowest ever, breaking the record from last year.

Gone were the white and pink blooms of azaleas and dogwoods, replaced by autumn hues of brown and gold. The Masters, though, in any month is defined by green. And the jacket fit Johnson well.