Brooks Koepka leads, eyes fifth golf major
ROCHESTER, N.Y. – At his home in Jupiter, Florida, Brooks Koepka has his trophies on display.
“But I only put the big ones up there just to remind myself that’s there’s plenty more big ones to win,” Koepka said in “Full Swing,” the Netflix docuseries.
On Saturday, Koepka sank a 47-foot birdie putt at 17 to post the low round at Oak Hill for the second straight day – back-to-back rounds of 66 – to grab a one-stroke advantage atop the leaderboard over Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners after 54 holes at the 105th PGA Championship. Koepka will be bidding for a fifth major — he would become the 20th player to win five or more major titles — and third Wanamaker Trophy.
“To win one would be fantastic,” Koepka said. “I was just told that I think only Tiger and Jack have won three (in the modern era), so that would be pretty special to be in a list or category with them.”
Koepka’s 66 was all the more impressive given that Oak Hill turned into Soak Hill for the third round.
“It was just relentless really, from the start of the warmup to literally as we were putting out on the last green. There was very little wind, but that doesn’t stop it playing cold and long and wet,” said Tommy Fleetwood, who recorded one of the better rounds, a 68. “As the round goes on, it just turns into a bit more survival.”
Koepka, 33, survived a 2-over 72 in the opening round and patiently has clawed his way back to the top of the leaderboard. He did so with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 4 and 5, He made his lone bogey of the day at the seventh when he tugged his drive left and had to punch out of trouble. His putter warmed up on the second nine and he made birdies at Nos. 12 and 13 before sinking the long-range bomb at 17.
BROOKS FROM DOWNTOWN ‼️
He’s now only 1 shot back #PGAChamp pic.twitter.com/eMc6YDcPi9
— Golf on CBS ⛳ (@GolfonCBS) May 20, 2023
“That doesn’t go in, that’s probably six, eight feet by,” said Koepka, who finished at 6-under 204.
For the second straight major, Koepka, who defected to LIV Golf last summer after missing the cut at the U.S. Open, holds the 54-hole lead. But at the Masters, he conceded he “choked” on Sunday, as Jon Rahm slipped into the Green Jacket.
“I didn’t sleep Sunday night just trying to figure out what exactly it was. Thought about it for a few days after and really honed in on what I was doing and what went wrong,” Koepka said Tuesday. “From there just never let it happen again. That’s the whole goal, right?”
Koepka refuses to share what went wrong at Augusta, but he reiterated after Saturday’s round that he won’t make the same mistake twice.
“Learning what I learned at Augusta kind of helped today,” he said. “Like I said, I won’t do it again the rest of my career.”
Viktor Hovland has been in the trophy chase going into the final round of the last two majors at St. Andrews and Augusta National. How will that help to claim his first major at the 105th PGA Championship on Sunday?
“Just what not to do, I guess,” he said.
Hovland, 25, continued to put on a ball-striking clinic, leading the field in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green, SG: Approach the Green, and proximity with his approach shots this week. On Saturday, it added up to an even-par 70 at Oak Hill and one stroke back of leader Brooks Koepka.
Hovland made a pair of early bogeys at Nos. 4 and 5 and didn’t drop another shot until 18. Along the way, he canned a 12-foot birdie at 8 and added back-to-back birdies at Nos. 11 and 12 with some splendid approach shots.
As for his game plan for the final round, he said, “I am just going to play what I think is the right play on every single shot, and if I get beat, I get beat, but the plan is to not give it away.”
Canada’s Corey Conners was skating along with one of the best rounds of the day. He was 2 under, bogey-free through 15 holes and leading by a stroke until he embedded his second shot from a fairway bunker at 16 into the lip.
He was granted a free drop but had a difficult stance and eventually made a double bogey en route to an even-par 70.
“I didn’t make great contact there,” Conners explained of his 9-iron in the sand from 154 yards. “I saw everybody looking up in the air. I did that as well. I thought it maybe skipped up. But you know, didn’t see anything land and was pretty certain it was embedded there. The ball was below my feet and didn’t quite adjust for that. Wish I could have that one back.”
What did he and his caddie Danny Sahl say to each other about the shot?
“We had a laugh about it, really,” Conners said.
Conners, 31, won the Valero Texas Open for the second time in April and has finished in the top 10 three times in majors – all at the Masters. When asked how he’d have responded if someone told him he’d be one stroke back of the lead heading into the final round at the start of the week, he said, “Yeah, sounds pretty sweet to me.”
Also in the favor of Conners and Hovland: since 2000, 10 players have won the PGA Championship for their first major title, including Shaun Micheel (2003) and Jason Dufner (2013), the last two times Oak Hill hosted the PGA.
World No. 2 Scottie Scheffler was in a world of trouble early. He took three putts at the first and made bogey and was 4 over for his first seven holes despite making only two bogeys combined in his first 36 holes. To make matters worse, he didn’t make a birdie until the 14th hole on Saturday, but he kept the squares off his scorecard after No. 7 and signed for 3-over 73 at Oak Hill, four strokes off the lead and T-5.
Great break for Scottie on No. 7 😧#PGAChamp pic.twitter.com/RHTTObZF0d
— Golf on CBS ⛳ (@GolfonCBS) May 20, 2023
“To start the day I got off to a pretty rough start, and righting the ship was important, and I still have a chance in the tournament,” Scheffler said. “I didn’t shoot myself out of it on a day where the condition were tough and I didn’t have my best stuff. I hung in there pretty good and didn’t post the number I wanted to, but I’m still only four back going into tomorrow, and if I go out and have a great round, I think I’ll have a decent chance.”
After a sluggish start Thursday when he wasn’t feeling up to par, Rory McIlroy has battled back with a pair of 1-under 69s, making five birdies but also four bogeys in the third round at Oak Hill.
“I still don’t feel like my game is in great shape,” he said. “I’ve held it together well.”
That included hitting his most fairways for the week – 6 of 14 – and his iron game has been sharp (No. 3 in Strokes Gained: Approach this week and second in proximity on Saturday).
Last year, Justin Thomas rallied from seven strokes back to win so McIlroy still has a fighting chance to claim the Wanamaker for the third time and snap his major drought, which dates to the 2014 PGA Championship.
Asked if there’s a 65 out there Sunday, McIlroy said, “I hope so. Like if I look at today, I made enough birdies to shoot a score like that. I just needed to keep those mistakes off the card. I need to keep hope. I have to believe that there is a score like that out there because looking at the board, it’s probably a score I’m going to have to shoot something like that to have a chance to win.”
He added: “With how I’ve felt this week, if you had have told me on Thursday night that I’d be going into Sunday in the top five and with a realistic chance to win this golf tournament, I would have taken it.”
No PGA club pro has ever finished in the top 10 at the PGA Championship, but Michael Block has a great chance to be the first.
The 46-year-old Cinderella story out of Southern Cal, the only PGA professional who made the cut at Oak Hill, shot his third straight round of even-par 70 and T-8 through 54 holes.
Block’s back story was documented here.
On Saturday, he carded four birdies – including while doing a walk-and-talk at 14 with CBS’s Jim Nantz and Trevor Immelman – two bogeys (including a three-putt at 13) and a double bogey at the difficult sixth hole.
“I’m livin’ a dream.”
PGA Pro Michael Block joins us mic’d up on No. 14 #PGAChamp pic.twitter.com/bGck5igC5N
— Golf on CBS ⛳ (@GolfonCBS) May 20, 2023
Despite rarely having time to hit a bucket of balls back home at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club, in Mission Viejo, California, Block ranks second in both driving accuracy and Strokes Gained: Putting for the week as well as the second-most birdies in the field with 13 (Justin Rose has made 14).
Block’s largest check of his career is for $75,000 for winning the 2014 PGA Professional Championship.
“There was the 2001 California State Open for $4,500 for a long, long time, and when I got 75K in one tournament, I was very happy,” said Block.
He could cash a lot more than that depending on his performance Sunday. A solo top-10 this week would be good for $371,250.
Also in play is a top 4 or better which would earn him a Masters invite; a top-10 would net him a start at the next full-field PGA Tour event (RBC Canadian Open); a top 15 would earn him a return trip to the 2024 PGA at Valhalla.