Defending champion Brooks Koepka appeared on the verge of completing a wire-to-wire PGA Championship victory Sunday to capture his fourth major title in a record-shattering onslaught.
Third-ranked Koepka’s 54-hole total of 12-under par 198 at Bethpage Black was good for a seven-stroke lead, the largest advantage entering the final round in tournament history.
No man has led a major by so much so late and lost.
“I feel confident,” Koepka said. “I feel good. I feel excited.”
A victory would restore Koepka to the world number one ranking he lost in January and make the 29-year-old American the PGA’s fifth wire-to-wire winner after Hal Sutton in 1983, Ray Floyd in 1982, Jack Nicklaus in 1971 and Bobby Nichols in 1964.
A second-place pack behind Koepka on 205 included top-ranked Dustin Johnson, fellow Americans Harold Varner and Luke List and Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond.
“It’s going to take something special to catch Brooks,” Johnson said. “But it’s definitely doable on this course.”
The best final-round comeback by a PGA winner was seven strokes by John Mahaffey in 1978.
“No one likes to play for second, but that’s sort of what he’s doing to us,” said ninth-ranked American Xander Schauffele, who was on 207.
“Everyone is here to win, but there’s only one guy who’s absolutely just destroying this place. So I’m sure he’s having a blast. But for the rest of us, he’s making it awfully boring.”
Koepka opened with a course-record 63 on Thursday then produced the lowest 36-hole score in major golf history on 12-under 128 before firing a third-round 70.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of a cushion,” Koepka said. “If I can get off to a good start, guys got to push and if you’re going to push on this golf course, you’re going to make mistakes.
“I just have to focus on myself and not anybody else. And at the same time, staying patient and staying in the moment.”
If Koepka does capture the Wanamaker Trophy and the $1.98 million (1.77 million euros) top prize, he will be the first man to own back-to-back titles at two majors simultaneously.
Koepka seeks a third consecutive US Open crown next month at Pebble Beach.
– Koepka tunnel-visioned –
He can also become the first golfer to defend both US Open and PGA crowns.
“Everybody keeps asking what am I doing differently,” Koepka said. “I’m just that much more focused. I think I’m more focused than anybody out there. I think I’m tunnel-visioned. My focus probably goes up tenfold of what it does in a form tour event.”
Koepka has only won two non-major US PGA events, the 2015 Phoenix Open for his first tour title and last October’s CJ Cup in South Korea.
“It’s just something about playing a tough golf course and understanding,” Koepka said. “Maybe it’s doing a little bit more homework.”
It doesn’t hurt to have an athletic build and the strength to bash drives so far that it sets up easier shots into greens so he can get the ball closer to the hole for birdie putts.
“When I’m over the shot I’m very confident,” Koepka said. “I enjoy the confidence I’m playing with right now.”