PGA Championship: Brooks Koepka capitalizes on Corey Conners’ late nightmare to take the lead into final round
It had all been going so smoothly for Corey Conners.
Bogey-free with only three holes to play of a soggy PGA Championship third round on Saturday, the Canadian had looked poised to take a solo lead into the final day before disaster struck.
A bizarre double bogey at the 16th hole saw the world No. 29 – seeking to become just the second Canadian to lift a men’s golf major trophy – leapfrogged by four-time major champion Brooks Koepka.
The American continued his charge towards a third PGA Championship with his second successive, round-best, four-under 66 to jump to six-under overall and take a one stroke lead into Sunday’s closing round ahead of Conners and Norway’s Viktor Hovland.
Conners hits from the rough on the 16th hole. - Eric Gay/AP
Conners and Hovland both shot an even 70 to stay neck-and-neck having begun Saturday with a share of the lead. Scottie Scheffler had made it a three-way split at the summit but saw his pursuit of a second major falter with a frustrating 3-over 73.
The American world No. 2 will start the final round level with England’s Justin Rose, in a tie for fifth place and four shots back of Koepka. The duo are one shot behind the leader’s fellow LIV Golf competitor Bryson DeChambeau, who carded 70 to maintain his hold of solo fourth.
Rory McIlroy kept his name in the picture by shooting his second consecutive 69. The Northern Irishman is the seventh and final golfer with an overall score under par, as another day of miserable conditions contributed to plenty of high scores across the field.
Some casualties included last month’s Masters champion Jon Rahm, whose frustrations boiled over as he dropped further out of contention to six-over par overall. Caught in the worst of the rainy conditions, the Spaniard did well to salvage a bogey-spotted start to his third round but will start Sunday 12 shots off the lead.
By contrast, the fairytale continued for the adopted hero of Oak Hill: club pro Michael Block. As the only PGA Head Professional to make the cut, the 46-year-old shot his third consecutive even-par 70 to end the day in tied-eighth with American Justin Suh.
It sees Block just one shot behind four-time major champion McIlroy and well ahead of a long list of seasoned winners, including Collin Morikawa, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Rahm. In the 105-year history of the major, no PGA Professional has ever finished inside the top-10.
Scheffler endured a frustrating third round. - Darren Carroll/PGA of America/Getty Images
‘Wish I could have that one back’
With 13 pars and two birdies under his belt, Conners looked a decent bet to escape unscathed when his tee drive on the par-four 16th found a bunker to the right of the fairway.
Yet the 31-year-old found himself in a nightmare scenario when his subsequent shot slammed into the lip of the bunker with his ball wedged so deep in the rough that a rules official was called to evaluate the situation.
“I saw everybody looking up in the air, I did that as well. I thought it maybe skipped up,” Conners told reporters.
“But didn’t see anything land and was pretty certain it was embedded there. The ball was below my feet and I didn’t quite adjust for that. Wish I could have that one back.”
It was another rainy day at Oak Hill on Saturday. - Michael Reaves/Getty Images
After a long discussion, Conners was afforded a drop outside the bunker, but further trouble ensued when a poor follow-up shot left him over 80 feet short of the hole having already taken four strokes.
The Canadian scrambled well for a double bogey and eased home with two pars, but a mere two errant swings inflicted damage on his bid to emulate compatriot Mike Weir’s Masters win in 2003.
His fellow countryman’s win had inspired an 11-year-old Conners to pursue a pro career. Now two decades on, Conners has a fighting chance to make his own history.
“It would mean a lot to me and I’m sure a lot to people across Canada,” he said.
“I will be playing hard tomorrow, but I’m trying to have some fun out there.”
Koepka chasing a hat-trick
Another stellar round saw Koepka move closer to ending his four year wait for a fifth major title.
Multiple injuries have contributed to the 33-year-old’s struggles to recapture the form that saw him scoop back-to-back US Open and PGA Championship titles across an unprecedented stretch between 2017 and 2019.
Yet after a runner-up finish at The Masters last month, Koepka looks to be returning to his dominant best. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods are the only two players to have won at least three PGA Championships in the stroke play era of the tournament.
“I think a major championship would mean a lot to anybody,” he told reporters.
“I was just told that I think only Tiger [Woods] and Jack [Nicklaus] have won three, so that would be pretty special to be in a list or category with them. Just got to go out and go play good tomorrow.”
Followed – and occasionally jeered – throughout by big Rochester crowds, that noise can be expected to reach fever-pitch tomorrow. Not that Koepka seems bothered.
“I didn’t hear any good chirps, nothing creative,” he said.
“A lot of it is repetitive honestly. I’m not trying to dog the fans, but I enjoy when they are creative, when there’s something funny that they say. Usually that’s the one that kind of sticks out.”
Yet despite the heckles, Koepka wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love New York, it’s always fun,” Koepka said.
“You do something really well, they are going to let you know, and if you do something pretty poor, they are going to let you know, and I just love that.
“I love when the fans are on you, cheering for you, or you know, giving you crap if you screw up. That’s the beauty of it. You want that, or at least I want that atmosphere.”
Koepka is schedule to tee off with Hovland in the last pairing of Sunday’s final round at 2:30 p.m ET (7:30 p.m. BST), 10 minutes after Conners and DeChambeau.
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