PGA: PGA Championship - First RoundMay 16, 2019; Bethpage, NY, USA; Brooks Koepka plays his shot from the tenth tee during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bethpage State Park - Black Course. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports
By Andrew Both
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) - Brooks Koepka combined the strength of tungsten with the precision of a calligrapher, earning a record seven-stroke lead after the third round at the PGA Championship on Saturday.
After taking command on Friday, when he opened up a seven-shot halfway advantage, the 29-year-old remained in charge with a near-clinical even-par in brilliant spring sunshine at Bethpage Black.
Koepka posted a 12-under 198 total, while long-hitting fellow Americans Dustin Johnson (69), Harold Varner III (67) and Luke List (69), and Thai surprise packet Jazz Janewattananond (67) were locked in second place on five under.
The largest 54-hole lead in championship history left Koepka needing only to avoid a disastrous Sunday to retain the title. He has also won the past two U.S. Opens.
American John Mahaffey pulled off the largest PGA Championship comeback after 54 holes, coming from seven behind to beat Tom Watson in 1978.
Koepka played with machine-like precision, smashing his drives more than 300 yards and hitting soaring iron shots that honed in on the pins as if attracted by magnets.
He limited his damage to just three bogeys, using pugilistic power to muscle his ball out of the lush rough on the odd occasion when he strayed from the fairway
His rivals did not play badly, but the damage had been done in the first 36 holes.
They simply had too much ground to make up on the leader, their cause made all the more difficult by the lush rough that gobbled up errant shots, while the wind whipped up over the final hour of play.
World number one Johnson had six birdies, but littered his card with five bogeys, while List bogeyed the final two holes just when it seemed Koepka's lead was not necessarily insurmountable after all.
Johnson was not ready to concede defeat.
"It's going to take something special to catch Brooks but it's definitely doable on this course because it's so difficult," he said.
But List was less optimistic.
"I think we're all pretty much playing for second. It seems like that hasn't been said since Tiger (Woods) back in his heyday," List said.
Janewattananond, in his first American major appearance after last year's British Open, gave the galleries a new face to enjoy, almost swinging out of his 23-year-old shoes in a fearless display.
MCILROY AN AFTER-THOUGHT
Earlier, as Koepka prepared to tee off, Rory McIlroy was already done with his day, reduced to an after-thought at a tournament he entered as the best player in the world this year, a mantle he will surely hand over to Koepka on Sunday.
McIlroy shot a one-under-par 69 that would have been significantly better with a co-operative putter but, for someone whose career revolves around the majors, it was a jarring experience to tee off among the dew-sweepers.
But the four-times major champion, who made the halfway cut with nothing to spare, said he had not earned the right to a later tee time, as the scorecard spoke for itself.
"I haven't played well enough to be out there, and that's the way it is," the Northern Irishman said when asked if he wished he was in Koepka's position.
"I feel that would be very entitled (to think that).
"It's awesome (the way Koepka is playing). I watched most of it yesterday afternoon. He's definitely, in these events, playing on a different level than most anyone else."
Saturday dawned magnificent on Long Island, with bright sunshine and a light breeze helping to dry out a course drenched with rain earlier in the week.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; editing by Clare Fallon and Ed Osmond)