ST. LOUIS – Brooks Koepka is what Tiger Woods used to be.
At least in majors.
And Tiger isn’t far from being that old Tiger again.
Koepka won his third major title in his last six starts in the game’s four biggest tournaments, a Tiger-esque stretch that includes victory in the past two playings of the U.S. Open and now the 100th PGA Championship.
Just like Tiger was back in his heyday, Koepka is a physically imposing, supremely confident, ultra-cool presence who dismantles the toughest tracks in golf and the most star-studded fields in the game.
At Bellerive Country Club on a steamy Sunday, Koepka completed his thumping of the course and held off one challenger after another with a final-round, 4-under-par 66 that left him at 16 under and two clear of Woods, three clear of Adam Scott and four clear of Stewart Cink and Jon Rahm.
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Koepka’s heart didn’t skip a beat – it rarely does – despite the stampede of challengers hunting him and the vortex of noise that is Woods, who turned in his best result in a major in years and knocked the socks off the massive crowds that flocked to Bellerive.
“The crowds here, they let you know what’s going on,” Koepka said. “The beginning of the back nine, I could hear all the roars. When Tiger started making his little run, and Scotty made his run, it got loud.”
Koepka never lost the lead he took into Sunday and delivered two birdies from short distance on the 15th and 16th holes to hold the field at bay and earned him the right to wrap his enormous arms around the Wanamaker Trophy. It was a fitting conclusion to a week in which he overpowered the soft track with his driver, wedge and putter.
With rounds of 69-63-66-66, Koepka is without question elite and he joined some heady company as he, Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen are the only players to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year. Koepka also moved to No. 2 in the world, trailing just his good friend, Dustin Johnson.
As for Woods, do you want to doubt him now?
Woods had to have silenced his harshest critics, including even the Tiger haters. While his claws didn’t clutch a fifth Wanamaker Trophy and he didn’t win his 15th major and first since capturing the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods showed one and all he’s back to being a preeminent force once again just 16 months after his Hail Mary spinal fusion surgery.
After starting his comeback ranked 1,199th, Woods is now 26th in the world and Sunday’s final round at Bellerive Country Club was a punctuation mark of a season of change for Woods – so far – one that has included equipment tinkering, alterations to his swing and a new putter in the bag.
On Sunday, Woods was an act that played out in two parts, the first coming on the front nine where everything was a mess except his scorecard. His tempo was off, his swing was too fast from the top through impact, and he didn’t hit a single fairway in regulation.
In his most recent injury-riddled years, that would have spelled doom. But now, after a season of progress, a season where he gradually improved from one tournament to another, gaining confidence along the way, Woods showed himself and his peers that he can be a force when he doesn’t have his “A” game. Woods became Houdini on the front and made four birdies with some of the most outrageous scrambling you’ve ever seen.
He made the turn just one shot out of the lead and then unleashed some vintage form. He added four more birdies, left one birdie putt on the lip and had a par putt lip out. He closed with a 64 – his best final-round score in a major – and his 266 total was the lowest he has ever shot in a major.
In the end, however, Woods had an answer for most everything he faced this week except Koepka.
“I played hard,” Woods said. “I made a bit of a run.
“It’s tough to beat when the guy hits it 340 down the middle. What he did at Shinnecock (in the Open), just bombing it, and then he’s doing the same thing here. … And when a guy’s doing that and hitting it straight, and as good a putter as he is, it’s tough to beat.”
But as Woods left the Gateway City, he was full of hope for what is on the horizon. He’s gone from barely being able to walk, to not knowing if he’d ever play again, to keeping expectations in check, to now expecting to win.