PGA Championship: Brooks Koepka does not flinch on way to fifth major championship
Brooks Koepka’s 2023 PGA Championship began 36 days ago, when he tried to go to bed after finishing second at the Masters. He’d gone into the final round at Augusta with a 2-shot lead over Jon Rahm, only to cough up a chance at a green jacket with a 3-over 75.
He didn’t sleep that night. Instead, he thought about what went wrong.
"That’s the whole goal, right? You’re not trying to dwell on it," he said last week. "Yeah, it sucks to finish second, but at the same time, as long as you learn from it, you’ll be fine."
He clearly learned from it.
For the second straight major, Koepka took a lead into the final round. Only this time, he wouldn’t cough it up, not even in the face of a stiff challenge from Norway’s Viktor Hovland, nor a late run from Mr. Consistent, Scottie Scheffler.
Three birdies in his first four holes set the stage for what wouldn’t be a Masters repeat for Koepka. Hovland nearly matched him birdie for birdie, carding five. The problem for the Norwegian was that Koepka dropped in seven.
The end for Hovland came at No. 16 when he drilled his shot from a fairway bunker straight into the grass face in front of him. It was a shot eerily similar, from nearly the exact same spot, to one that plucked Corey Conners from the lead just about 24 hours earlier.
Hovland would double bogey, Koepka would birdie, the lead would balloon from one to four and the Wanamaker Trophy was Koepka’s.
It’s the third PGA Championship victory for the 33-year-old Koepka and his fifth major overall. That ties him with legends of the game such as Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros, and puts him only one major victory behind Phil Mickelson.
Hovland and Scheffler finished in a tie for second, two strokes back.
This year’s PGA Championship started without one of the greatest players the tournament has ever seen. Tiger Woods sat out the 105th edition as he continues to rehab his injured ankle, a sidelining that is more indefinite by the day.
When the tournament got going, it was a slimmed-down Bryson DeChambeau who led the field after Round 1. Seeing DeChambeau de-Hulked for the first time since Augusta might have come as a bit of a shock, and so did his game. DeChambeau has not faired well since joining the LIV Golf tour, but Thursday he looked like his old self — still launching bombs, only this time with a bit more control.
He wouldn’t win the tournament, but the fourth-place result is his best in a major since his victory at the 2020 U.S. Open.
The feel-good story of the tournament came courtesy of Michael Block, a club pro from Southern California, who at one point Friday had moved himself into second place. Block estimates that he hits about a bucket of balls a week, and yet there he was beating world No. 1 Jon Rahm. After three straight rounds of even-par 70, Block was paired with Rory McIlroy for the final round. And then things got really crazy.
At the 151-yard, par-3 15th, Block dunked his tee shot directly in the cup for a hole-in-one like none other. The crowd went wild as Block got a high-five and a hug from McIlroy.
MICHAEL. BLOCK. ACE. #PGAChamppic.twitter.com/YitD2QLDB7
— PGA Championship (@PGAChampionship) May 21, 2023
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The fireworks still weren’t done for the 46-year-old Block, who needed to finish 15th or better to qualify for next year’s PGA Championship. Anything lower, and he’d have to get in via qualifying, as he’s done five times before. After making a mess of his 18th hole, he needed to sink an 8-footer for par to finish 15th. He drained it, the crowd went wild and McIlroy was back for another hug.
"I’m living the dream," Block said after his round. "I’m making sure that I enjoy this moment. I’ve learned that after my 46 years of life that it’s not going to get better than this. There’s no way. No chance in hell. So I’m going to enjoy this, and thank you."
The moment eventually ceded to Koepka.
It was only a few months ago when Episode 2 of Netflix’s golf documentary "Full Swing" told a story of a down-on-his-luck and depressed Koepka. It had viewers wondering if the major killer wasn’t just done killing majors, but altogether, with nothing more left in his game other than collecting LIV Golf paychecks.
Well, in two majors this season, Koepka has a second-place finish and now a victory.
The major killer is back, and he’s hungry for more.