With all due respect to the hundred-and-fifty-odd other players who teed it up in this year’s PGA Championship: thanks for playing, gents; we’re done with you now. Brooks Koepka isn’t playing you any more; he’s now playing history.
Koepka opened the day with a seven-stroke lead, and continued to keep the field at that exact distance, mainly because nobody in the field got their act together well enough to mount a charge. Koepka finished the day with a reliable but unspectacular even-par 70, but all of his pursuers stumbled over their own spikes.
Dustin Johnson (-1 on the day), Jordan Spieth (+2 on the day), Adam Scott (+2 on the day) and a handful of other challengers didn’t really pose much of a challenge at all, even as Koepka had what, for him, counted as a weak round. His lead over the field remains a full touchdown.
Koepka will tee off in the final pairing on Sunday alongside Harold Varner III, who may one day be a great player but is, for now, playing in just his fifth major. In the group ahead of them will be Jazz Janewattananond, playing in his second-ever major, and Luke List, who’s only made three cuts in the nine majors he’s played. Anything can happen in the PGA Championship, but asking these cats to come up huge against golf’s current top dog is a hell of a tall order.
So let’s run down what Koepka’s done so far:
Set the course record at Bethpage Black and finished one stroke off the best 18-hole major record with a 63.
Set the record for lowest 36 holes at a major with a 128 after Friday.
Missed, by just two strokes, matching David Toms’ 54-hole major record of 196, set in 2001.
Holds, along with Henrik Stenson (2016 British Open), the record for lowest 72 holes at a major: 264, set in 2018 at Bellerive, and could match that with a 66 Sunday.
In line to become the only player ever — as in ever, as in all of golf history — to hold two consecutive trophies from two consecutive majors. (He’s won back-to-back U.S. Opens and is the defending PGA champ.)
There’s a reason this guy’s won three majors already and is on pace to win his fourth within the next 24 hours. Every single hole, he hits shots you can’t believe, he gets out of trouble in ways you can’t fathom, he simply continues to carve away at the course the way a lumberjack carves away at a tree — pulling it apart chunk by table-sized chunk.
Even when he gets into what passes for trouble — bogeying the ninth and 10th on Saturday — you never get the sense that Koepka’s anywhere close to cracking. When you need a guy to start carding quintuple bogeys to give the rest of the field any daylight, you know you’re witnessing a legendary performance.
Put it this way: if Koepka just shoots even par on Sunday, his four closest pursuers will need to match Koepka’s course record of 63 to even catch him, and they’d need to match the all-time major record of 62 to pass him. Think that’s doable? Good luck.
Now, all that said ... there’s always a chance.
Not that anyone’s wishing for Koepka to collapse, but it has happened at the PGA Championship before. Most notably, in 1978 Tom Watson owned the first three days at Oakmont and took a five-shot lead into Sunday. He shot a 73 on the day and ended up losing to John Mahaffey in a playoff.
Then in 2010, Nick Watney held a three-shot lead over the field heading into Sunday at Whistling Straits. It didn’t take long for Watney to give that lead away; Martin Kaymer would go on to win the tournament after Johnson’s infamous 18th-hole rules miscue at the less-than-well-marked bunkers.
There’s no indication whatsoever that Koepka will fumble away this lead — he’s simply not that mercurial of a player, and he’s been here before, many times. One way or another, though, Sunday at the PGA Championship will be a historic afternoon.
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