FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – In the shadow of the Manhattan skyline, Brooks Koepka stood as a tower of authority as he continued his mastery of major championships with a wire-to-wire victory at Bethpage Black in the 101st playing of the PGA Championship.
On a blustery, overcast Sunday, with the People’s Country Club finally flashing its teeth, Koepka held off one final challenge to win his second consecutive Wanamaker Trophy and his fourth major championship in his last eight starts.
With his Schwarzenegger biceps, Popeye forearms and unruffled composure, Koepka bludgeoned Bethpage Black and the field through three rounds and then didn’t crack in the final round despite four consecutive bogeys and five in all on the inward nine as he saved himself from squandering the largest 54-hole lead in a major championship.
- SCORES: 101st PGA Championship
With a final-round, 4-over-par 74, Koepka finished two shots clear of Dustin Johnson, his fellow Bash Brother and frequent workout partner who steadily cut into Koepka’s 54-hole, seven-shot lead before he fell back on the final three holes.
“It was a difficult day, difficult golf course, and it just was a battle,” Koepka said. “DJ played a hell of a round to come back. This is probably the most satisfied I’ve been with all the majors. This one’s definitely at the top of the list of how emotionally spent I am and how mentally spent I am.”
With rounds of 63-65-70-74, Koepka finished at 8 under in a tournament where only six players finished under par. With the victory — worth $1.98 million — Koepka overtook Johnson as the No. 1 player in the world.
Johnson closed with a 69 and got within one shot with a birdie on the 15th just before Koepka bogeyed 14. But Johnson limped home with two bogeys in his final three holes and has now completed the runner-up career Grand Slam, finishing second in all four majors.
“Obviously I knew starting seven back that it was going to be a big feat to catch Brooks,” said Johnson, whose lone major triumph came in the 2016 U.S. Open. “I definitely gave him a run.”
Jordan Spieth (71), Patrick Cantlay (71) and Matt Wallace (72) tied for third at 2 under.
Koepka was cruising to the title before turbulence set in on the back nine as he bogeyed 11, 12, 13 and 14. That’s when the crowd turned on him as it started chanting, ‘DJ, DJ, DJ.” But Koepka responded.
“I was in shock with what was going on,” Koepka said. “I got stuck on the bogey train. The hour I spent from 11 to 14, it was interesting. They started chanting DJ and it sort of helped me. It made me refocus and I hit a good one on 15.”
With his fourth major triumph in 23 months, Koepka has become Tigeresque in the majors with a stretch of supremacy that includes a tie for second in last month’s Masters when Tiger Woods won his fifth green jacket and 15th major by one shot.
One would have to go back to the best days of Woods, when he won seven of 11 majors held from the 1999 PGA through the 2002 U.S. Open, or when he won five of 12 majors from the 2005 Masters through the 2007 PGA, to find such dominance.
Koepka joined Woods, who did it twice, as the only players to win back-to-back PGAs since the championship moved to stroke play.
From Thursday’s start, when Koepka shot 7-under-par 63 to break the course record and become the only player with a pair of 63s in PGA history, he proved to be an uncatchable force.
With a 65 in the second round, he established the lowest 36-hole score in major championship history at 128 and upped his lead to seven shots.
After an even-par 70 in the third round, he still held a seven-shot lead.
And now, along with consecutive titles in the U.S. Open, Koepka, 29, is the first to hold back-to-back majors concurrently.
“His performances in majors is similar to Tiger, but Tiger did it every week,” said Paul Casey, who tied for 29th. “But (Koepka’s) physical attributes put him in a category where only one or two guys can compete with him when he really gets going.”
Koepka will be going to Pebble Beach next month, where he’ll try to join Willie Anderson as the only players to win the U.S. Open in three consecutive years. In his lone start in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, Koepka finished in a tie for eighth in 2016.
“Every major championship is a good fit for Brooks,” said Claude Harmon III, who has been Koepka’s swing coach since 2013 and is also Johnson’s coach. “He likes everything about a major – the pressure, the atmosphere, the demands of the course. He puts in the work. Hard work. He grinds. He’s got the perfect demeanor. He wants to get better. He wants to win majors.”
Never one to back down from a challenge or blink heading to the unknown, Koepka’s road to major dominance actually began in the Eastern Hemisphere on the European Tour and its developmental circuit. From Spain to Scotland, from Kenya to Kazakhstan, from South Africa to Shanghai, Koepka grew as a man and his game began to take major strides as he built up a cache of confidence tackling currency demands, time zone changes, dining challenges and every golf course condition imaginable.
“He paid his dues,” said Woods, who got beat by 17 shots by Koepka en route to missing the cut as the two played together in the first two rounds. “He found a game and a dedication that he needed to play well, and he’s doing that.
“And everyone’s different. Everyone peaks differently and does things differently, and he’s found what he needs to do for himself, and at, what is he, 29? He’s got many more years ahead of him where he can do this.”
That’s the plan, Koepka said.
“It’s been a hell of a run,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t stop. It’s been so much fun that last two years. To be standing here with four majors, it’s mind-blowing.”
Others have been just as overwhelmingly impressed.