Monday, July 15, 2024

PGA and LIV collide as Brooks Koepka wins PGA Championship

Brooks Koepka looked like he was going to take command of the PGA Championship after he made three consecutive birdies early in Sunday’s final round. Instead, his hot start set the stage for a dramatic duel that lasted much of the final round at Oak Hill Country Club.

Koepka, who began Sunday with a one-shot lead, pulled three ahead with birdies on Nos. 2-4. The first two came on 4-footers after he knocked approach shots stiff, and the third was from just 9 feet.

It looked like the Koepka of old, the one who won four majors from 2017-19 and seemed invincible in the game’s biggest events. But he had to hold off a determined Viktor Hovland to win his fifth major and third PGA Championship.

It wasn’t until a three-shot swing on the 16th hole that Koepka’s victory at Oak Hill seemed inevitable. That put him four shots ahead with two holes remaining. Koepka went on to win by two, shooting a final-round 67 to finish at 9-under 271. Hovland finished second, as did Scottie Scheffler.

“This is probably the sweetest one of them all because of the hard work that went into this one, this one is definitely special,” said Koepka, who battled injuries between this victory and the 2019 PGA Championship.

Hovland’s double-bogey on 16 came after he drove into a fairway bunker, then failed to get his second shot out of the sand trap. Koepka made birdie on that hole.

Hovland hung tough throughout the day, however, even when Koepka made his early move.

Hovland also birdied the fourth hole, then picked up a shot on Koepka on each of the next two holes. The first came when Hovland made a 17-foot birdie putt on the par-3 fifth. Then he saved par from a bunker on the long, par-4 sixth while Koepka drove into the hazard and made a bogey.

Hovland got up and down to save par on three of the front nine’s final four holes, displaying a short game that belied the standard scouting report for the Norwegian.

Hovland and Koepka each shot 34 on the front nine, allowing Koepka to keep his one-shot advantage. He started the back nine with two birdies and a bogey to take a two-shot lead but Hovland’s birdie at the par-5 13th put him back within one shot. Koepka had to make a 10-foot par putt on that hole just to maintain his lead.

After holing that 10-foot birdie putt at 13, Hovland made one from 8 feet to match Koepka’s birdie at the drivable 14th. Hovland was still just one back when they arrived at the 16th hole. Oak Hill became Koepka’s stage after that. He made amends for the Masters, where he lost a 54-hole lead to Jon Rahm.

“I just learned I knew what I did in Augusta. I spent the whole night thinking about it,” he said. “I knew what I did and I knew I was never going to come out and think that way again. Didn’t do that.”

PGA Championship Storylines

Standing in a fairway bunker on the par-4 16th, Victor Hovland looked down in shock. The young Norwegian had gone toe-to-toe with Koepka all day and was just one shot down.

But as he stood there, his hopes of winning his first major championship were all but lost. After his tee shot found the bunker, he attempted to hit a 9-iron out into safety. But the ball came out with a lower trajectory than intended and embedded into the wall of the rough right front of the bunker.

“Just didn’t get out of the bunker,” an exasperated Hovland said after the round.

Hovland was forced to punch out and failed to get up and down for bogey. The result: his first double bogey of the week. Meanwhile, Koepka stuck his approach to 5 feet and made the putt for birdie. From within one shot to down four with two holes to play.

It was a brutal blow in what was otherwise a near blemish-free round for the 25-year-old. Both Hovland and Koepka were 3-under for their rounds up to that point, with Hovland fresh off birdies on 13 and 14 to get within a shot.

It also seemed to be a material change for Hovland following his last two Sunday performances at majors. Hovland carded final-round 74s to shoot himself out of both the Open Championship and the Masters.

With three holes to play on Sunday, Hovland had given himself a great chance to win his first major. The bunker shot ensured he would have to wait a bit longer.

“It sucks right now, but it is really cool to see that things are going in the right direction,” he said. “If I just keep taking care of my business and just keep working on what I’ve been doing, I think we’re going to get one of these soon.”

The 25-year-old made a birdie on the par-4 18th to get into a tie for second at 7-under, his best career finish in a major. He’s finished inside the top 10 in each of the last three major championships.

Scott Schefflers Forgettable Saturday

It’s hard not to wonder what could have been for Scottie Scheffler. The No. 2 player in the world held a share of the lead after 36 holes and, given the exemplary stretch of golf he’s played on the PGA TOUR this season, there was little reason to assume he would falter on the weekend.

To that point, he had made just two bogeys all week. On the front nine of his third round, Scheffler carded four of them leading to a 3-over 73 and a four-shot deficit entering the final round. That Scheffler shot a final-round 65 to finish 7-under overall and in a tie for second only added to the reminder of what Saturday cost him.

“It’s really hard to play four rounds under par, and if you do, usually you’re holding a trophy at the end. If I would have done that, that’s where I would be this afternoon instead of going home with second,” he said.

Scheffler made his best effort to get back into contention Sunday, making the turn 1-under on his day then carding birdies at 10, 13, 14 and 18 to give Koepka something to think about down the stretch. Two lipped-out putts on the first and ninth holes cost Scheffler the strokes needed to tie Koepka.

“The putts have to fall in to win the tournaments,” he said. “I hit a lot of good putts this week. They didn’t fall, but I put up a good fight.”

Block party bonanza: Oh to be a fan on the par-3 15th green when Michael Block stood on the tee Sunday afternoon. Waiting to get a glimpse of the PGA professional who has taken the golf world by storm, fans were treated to Block’s latest moment of magic as the 46-year-old dunked a 7-iron from 151 yards out for a hole-in-one.

The improbability of the moment would seem unbelievable until you realize that nearly everything Block has accomplished this week has felt improbable. Block was the only club pro to make the cut at a difficult Oak Hill. He kept his composure after a shank on Friday afternoon and went off in the fourth-to-last group on Sunday alongside four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.

So when his ball flew straight into the cup for an ace on No. 15, it actually felt fitting. After the week Block has had, why not add an ace to it?

Flash forward an hour later and the ramifications of the ace loomed large. Block dropped a shot on the par-4 16th to fall back to 1-over. He needed to stay there in order to finish inside the top-15 and earn an automatic qualification into the 2024 PGA Championship. After a par on 17, Block found the right rough with his drive on 18. His approach shot landed in the rough 30 yards left of the green with a bunker in between him and the pin. Block pitched a wedge perfectly over the bunker to 7 feet then drained the putt to finish in a tie for 15th.

It’s the third