Koepka Surges to Lead in Hunt for Third PGA Championship Title
The weather at Oak Hill Country Club was the opposite of pleasant. Weekend golfers would have stayed home. It was cold. Rainy. More rain. It started and stopped all day.
But there was Brooks Koepka at the end of the day without a jacket, his Florida sun-kissed biceps on display. Mother Nature can’t stop him.
Through three rounds of the PGA Championship, there may not be another golfer to stop him, either.
Koepka, who shot a 4-under 66, leads by one heading into Sunday. It was the second day in a row that Koepka shot the round of the day. Despite opening with a 2-over 72, Koepka’s back-to-back 66s have gotten him to 6 under through 54 holes and into a place he’s awfully comfortable at major championships – the top of the leaderboard.
There have been 24 major championships contested since 2017 and Koepka has finished first or second in a third of them. He was in the final group Sunday at the Masters six weeks ago and had a final-round fade, but still tied for second.
Here, he’s hoping there won’t be a repeat.
“Learning what I learned at Augusta kind of helped today,” Koepka said.
Koepka is putting as complete a performance as anyone at Oak Hill, sitting third in strokes gained: off the tee, second in strokes gained: tee to green, and 14th in strokes gained: putting.
He made back-to-back birdies on his front nine before a tough bogey on the par-4 seventh after needing to punch out from the rough, 250 yards out from the hole. Koepka added birdies on Nos. 12, 13 and 17 with the highlight coming on the penultimate hole of the day – he rolled in a 46-footer for a nice day-ending exclamation mark.
This is the big, bad, Brooks we’ve been accustomed to seeing over the last few years at majors. And after he was able to recover from a myriad of injuries, it seems like the usual major-championship dominating Koepka is back.
“I thought all I had to do was be healthy. That was just the only question mark. But you know, having an offseason to kind of just bust my butt and be in the gym every day, to work on things, doing different recovery, it’s been really good,” Koepka said.
Chasing the two-time PGA Championship winner are a pair of golfers looking to win their first majors. Viktor Hovland and Corey Conners are tied for second, sitting at 5 under through 54 holes.
Conners, a two-time winner on the PGA TOUR, had the lead as he got to the midway point of his back nine, but hit his drive into a fairway bunker on No. 16 and his approach was hit thin, directly into the rough in front of the bunker. It embedded, and Conners made a double bogey six to fall from the solo lead at 7 under to 5 under.
“Wish I could have that one back,” Conners admitted.
While Conners is leaning on a surprising weapon this week (he’s eighth in strokes gained: putting, a statistic he has been outside 130th in the last two seasons on the tour), Hovland is ball-striking his way around Oak Hill like no one else.
Hovland sits first in strokes gained: tee to green, and his first in proximity to the hole. He said that when he’s hitting his irons where he’s looking he can use that to his advantage and play smarter – something that’s needed at a major-championship test like Oak Hill.
“My iron game has been very, very good this week,” said Hovland. “I'm just kind of giving myself a lot of looks from the middle of the green.”
Bryson DeChambeau, who played with Koepka, sits in fourth alone at 3 under, while major champions Justin Rose and Scottie Scheffler are tied for fifth at 2 under. Rory McIlroy, himself a two-time PGA Championship winner, is the lone other golfer under par through 54 holes. He’s at 1 under and tied for seventh.
But there’s Koepka at the top again, doing his thing.
If he was to lift the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday he would become just the sixth golfer ever to win more than two PGA Championships, tying Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead with three. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the only two to win more than two in the stroke-play era.
Even for someone like Koepka, otherwise stoic when it comes to big-time accomplishments, he knows that winning another PGA Championship puts him in heady company.
“I think a major championship would mean a lot to anybody,” Koepka said. “I was just told Tiger and Jack have won three, so that would be pretty special to be in a list or category with them. Just got to go out and go play good tomorrow.”
It’s no surprise to see Koepka in this position at a major. Now he’s aiming to take it across the finish line – just like he’s done before.
On a day where many struggled, Brooks Koepka surges.@ROLEX | #ROLEX pic.twitter.com/HlSdxbxZ0r— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 20, 2023