Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Brooks Koepka finally gets credit he deserves: PGA Championship takeaways

Dustin Johnson proved he will be a threat at the US Open while Tiger Woods missed cut at Bethpage means major No 16 is far from certain

On Sunday, Brooks Koepka won the US PGA Championship by one shot to retain the Wanamaker Trophy and regain his place as world No 1.

Here’s some of the main talking points from the tournament.

Complete Koepka joins elite list

Brooks Koepka’s two-shot victory will be remembered more for the records set, and matched. Previous to Sunday, only three players had secured four majors in eight attempts: Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods. So, too, only three players before him had won twice in two different majors by age 30: Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Woods. Illustrious company, indeed.

But Koepka is all out on his own in another couple of marks: he became the first man to win his first four majors in less than two years, and the first to hold two majors concurrently having won them back-to-back. At the US Open, in little more than three weeks, he will attempt to become the second player in history to capture that crown three straight years, after Willie Anderson did so, between 1903 and 1905.

With only three regular PGA Tour/European Tour wins, Koepka is killing it in the majors. His dominance at Bethpage – he went wire-to-wire – was testament to his complete game. Until midway through Sunday, he displayed no obvious weakness. Maybe now, Koepka will get the credit his talent patently deserves.

'Bash Brother' is Koepka’s biggest threat at Pebble

At least Dustin Johnson made it interesting. Soon to be disposed as the game’s top-ranked player, the game's then-No 1 laid traps all around Koepka’s supposed lap of honour. Seven shots ahead at the start of play on Sunday, then six shots up after 10 holes, by the time Koepka had reached the 15th tee a combination of his wobble and Johnson’s wily play had reduced the gap to one. Johnson’s critics will point to the dropped shots on 16 and 17 when he scented blood, but still, he pushed Koepka when no one else even came close. In fact, Johnson was the only one of the final 24 players in the field under par for the round. His runner-up finish was his second in a major on the bounce, coming hot on the heels of last month’s Masters. He has now finished runner-up in all four majors.

That Johnson has only one major triumph - the 2016 US Open - on his CV feels outlandish given his game, but he has won twice at Pebble Beach and in 2010 led the US Open there after three rounds. He’ll therefore return to California in great nick for the season's third. Apparently best buddies with Koepka, "DJ" appears best placed to derail his shot at yet more glory.

Brooks Koepka, left, and Tiger Woods shake hands after finishing the second round of the PGA Championship on Friday. AP Photo
Brooks Koepka, left, and Tiger Woods shake hands after finishing the second round of the PGA Championship on Friday. AP Photo

Woods back down to earth with a bump

A continuation of The Incomprehensible Comeback always seemed likely to prove a stretch. Momentous at the Masters, Tiger Woods had garnered even more headlines heading into Bethpage Black, his first appearance since grabbing a fifth Green Jacket last month.

But, weeks after a first major triumph in 11 years and 15th overall, Woods came woefully unstuck in his punt at No 16. There should be no real shame in that, although his missed cut - only his ninth at a major - surprised somewhat. With a premium on deadeye driving, Bethpage Black was always going to provide Woods a real test. On Friday, he hit three of 14 fairways, contributing to a 36-hole total of 5-over par. It meant he missed the weekend by one. Playing alongside Koepka, he was 17 shots worse off.

A reported illness earlier in the week, and the rust from not playing competitively since Augusta, will have played their part. But, after the clamour of the Masters, Woods’ bid to reach Nicklaus’ fabled 18 majors was shown up to be anything but a guaranteed home run.

Wallace confirms a star on the rise

The top European on the leaderboard was not Rory McIlroy, or Justin Rose, or Francesco Molinari, or Jon Rahm: the four highest-ranked players from the continent. They all reside inside the world’s top 11. Instead, it was Matt Wallace, who began the week at No 31 but concluded it six places better off.

The Englishman finished tied-third at Bethpage Black, posting his strongest performance in a major. In fact, in five previous major outings, he had missed the cut four times. Yet Wallace continued his fine form – he was tied-second the week before at the British Masters – to continue his climb up the rankings. Three years ago, he was outside the top 1,100.

Last year, though, Wallace won three times on the European Tour and was incredibly unlucky not to make Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team. But at the PGA Championship, he offered another demonstration of his undoubted ability, not to mention his mettle. That he matched a resurgent Jordan Spieth for the week, and finished above McIlroy despite the Northern Irishman sneaking a ninth top 10 in 10 starts this season, speaks to a star evidently on the rise.

Boisterous Bethpage will make for overly rowdy Ryder Cup

That Koepka kept his cool on Sunday was made all the more impressive considering the raucous atmosphere developing all around him at Bethpage Black. Sensing a shock stumble was developing, and with Johnson closing in, the crowd chanted “DJ, DJ” and cheered Koepka’s lapse – a cruel intervention that could have knocked the eventual winner from his stride.

Rather, Koepka said afterwards that it actually galvanised him. The high-spirited, highly fuelled galleries, though, did throw up some concern for future. In 2024, Bethpage will host the Ryder Cup, an event in which the rising rivalry between the United States and Europe has become famed for its partisan crowds. Sometimes, that has boiled beyond the line of acceptability. Asked on Sunday what the atmosphere might be like in 2024, armed by that notorious New York audience, McIlroy rather intelligently replied: “No comment”. Paul Casey, meanwhile, conceded it would be “intimidating, no doubt”.

Sitting alongside his freshly retained Wanamaker Trophy, and with sights set on a starring role in five years' time, Koepka simply said with a smirk: “Good luck to Europe”.

Updated: May 20, 2019 03:20 PM

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