The second leg of the Tiger Woods 2019 Grand Slam bid did not go to plan. Simply put, he missed the cut. Rounds of 72-73 amounted to five over par, one shot too high to take the Masters champion into the weekend. On the other hand, rounds of 63-65 by one of his playing partners, Brooks Koepka, established a new 36-hole record for a major championship and handed him a seven-shot advantage at halfway, clear of Adam Scott and Jordan Spieth, the latter attempting to achieve something Woods has already done – complete the career Grand Slam. Another time, perhaps? After last night, Koepka is still missing the Masters and the Open Championship from his resumé but with three wins from his last five majors (and, remember, he only finished a shot behind Woods at Augusta), he is without question golf’s man of the moment. He’s made this his time.
The USPGA Championship has had its dates shifted from August to May but the outcome over the Black Course at Bethpage State Park on Long Island, New York, was essentially the same as it had been at Bellerive, St Louis, last summer – the Wanamaker Trophy ended up in Koepka’s possession, albeit Tiger had finished second on that occasion. This time, the 29-year-old Floridian had as runner-up Dustin Johnson, whom he replaced as world No. 1. On Saturday, ‘moving day’, no one moved enough to hurt Koepka, whose level-par 70 maintained his seven-shot lead, and while four consecutive back-nine bogeys cut into his lead on Sunday, Johnson’s goose was cooked when he bogeyed 16 and 17. Koepka’s closing 74 was good enough to win by two.
“To be standing here today with four majors, it’s mind-blowing,” said Koepka. “Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was. You knew today was going to be a tough day when it was blowing 15 or 20 on the range. I’m just glad we didn’t have to play any more holes.”
This was Koepka’s fourth major victory, all achieved in the past eight he’s contested. Astonishing stuff. Beginning with the 2o17 US Open, his record reads 1-6-13-1-39-1-2-1. (Injury forced him to miss the Masters in 2018.) To say he is a major specialist would be accurate. He has only won two non-majors in his PGA Tour career. He has also won twice on the Japanese Tour and once on the European Tour, the 2014 Turkish Airlines Open, which followed a successful career on the European Challenge Tour, where he won four times in nine months from September 2012 as he was growing into being a tour player. It’s some player he’s grown into.
Before the PGA began, Koepka mused that he might win at least 10 majors. “I think you keep doing what you’re supposed to do, you play good, you peak at the right times…I think sometimes the majors are the easiest ones to win. Half the people shoot themselves out of it.” This was precisely Jack Nicklaus’s mind-set in his prime; he figured there were a bunch of players who might win an ordinary tournament but were overwhelmed by the importance of a major. Koepka added: “Mentally I know I can beat most of them, and then from there it’s those guys left, who’s going to play good and who can win. I don’t see any reason it can’t get to double digits.” I think it’s fair to say he’s not lacking in confidence. Understandably so.
He will be defending another major, the US Open, at Pebble Beach next month. Indeed, he will be trying to do what no man has done since Willie Anderson between 1903-5: win three of them in a row. The venue and championship in California will be the same as when Woods embarked on the ‘Tiger Slam’ in 2000, whereby he would win all four majors in succession. We shall see what transpires next but Koepka’s goals these days are looking positively Woodsian. One really wouldn’t be brooking an argument by calling him Tigerish.
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