Brooks Koepka is running out of reasons to feel disrespected.
The rest of the PGA Tour is running out of reasons to believe they can overtake him on the back nine come Sunday.
Fighting off a final-round charge from Gary Woodland, Koepka closed in 29 for an 8-under 64 to win the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges and earn the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time.
“I look at where I started, my first pro start was in Switzerland,” said Koepka, who cut his teeth on the European Challenge Tour in 2012-13. “I don’t think I could have said six years later that I would be No. 1 in the world. I think it’s incredible.”
Koepka shot 21-under 267 for the week at the Club at Nine Bridges in Jeju Island, Korea to keep things rolling after being named PGA Tour Player of the Year for 2017-18.
It’s the third win in 11 starts for Koepka and first non-major PGA Tour win in three years. On display was the same resolve he’s shown in winning back-to-back U.S. Opens and the PGA Championship.
He was tied with Woodland through 14 holes and ended up winning by four. He drained a long birdie putt on 15, chipped in for birdie at 16 and spiked the football with an eagle at the par-5 18th. Woodland shot 9-under 63 in the final round but couldn’t keep pace down the stretch.
Rafa Cabrera Bello and Ryan Palmer finished T-3 and six shots back at 15 under, while Jason Day and Scott Piercy were T-5 at 12 under. Defending champ Justin Thomas finished T-36.
“Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him,” Woodland said. “So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today, but I was just too far behind.”
Koepka has talked about perceived slights from media several times over the past year, but he can’t say the same of his peers. They know that once Koepka’s name is on top of the leaderboard Sunday it’s likely to stay there, as it did when he outdueled Dustin Johnson at Shinnecock and Tiger Woods and Adam Scott at Bellerive.
At this point he should probably swap the Nike logo on his hat for a Glengarry Glen Ross coffee mug. He’s a closer and he’s not giving up any of the good leads.
“I just think pressure is all what you put on yourself,” Koepka said. “Pressure comes from fear. If you start thinking about the result or what might happen if you do something, that’s the only time there’s pressure, because if you get any of these guys out here on the driving range they can all flag it, they can all do whatever.”
The only thing that seems to get to Koepka mentally is the notion that he’s less respected in golf circles than others with weaker resumes.
His is already Hall of Fame-worthy at age 28, and his profile has never looked stronger. He’s won three of the last seven major championships, and that’s where the bulk of his emphasis lies.
Koepka’s ability to step up when it matters most has raised the question of why he doesn’t win more when it matters less. Usually we ask the opposite of talented players who shy away from the big stage, but Koepka continues to break the mold.
He has five PGA Tour wins, seven more internationally, and now he’s dethroned Johnson to become the undisputed top player in the world. He’s halfway to the career Grand Slam and, realistically, that’s the next plateau for Koepka as he continues to force his way into the discussion.
Koepka can knock off the third leg in April at Augusta National, and there’s still time to find a new slight – Woods, Johnson, Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy all were favored over Koepka by Las Vegas oddsmakers to win the 2019 Masters as of Sunday morning.
“I haven’t figured out Augusta yet,” said Koepka, who missed the Masters last spring due to injury. “I’m looking forward to finally going back and trying to figure out how to really take advantage of that golf course, because I feel with my game I definitely can.” Gwk