FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — He says it would be nice to be able to make a 10 on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship and still win, that his heart rate during Saturday’s round was similar to sitting on the couch, and that it’s all simpler than his opponents think.
Brooks Koepka can say whatever he damn-well wants because he’s taking a seven-shot lead into Sunday at Bethpage Black.
After two days of god-like golfing, Koepka came back to earth slightly on Saturday and shot an even-par 70 in round three of the season’s second major. The dominant power and sublime ball-striking was still there though.
“I just didn’t putt as well,” he said after his round. “I left a couple putts short right in the middle. If I make those and shoot a couple under, I extend the lead.”
With more sun on the greens and a constantly changing wind, Bethpage Black played tougher than it had all week. If Koepka took his foot off the gas it was a prudent decision because there was nobody chasing him.
Jordan Spieth, who began the day tied for second at five-under, played in the final group but didn’t make a single birdie until the 12th hole, shooting a two-over 72, to drop into a tie for eighth at three-under.
Adam Scott who was tied with Spieth heading into Saturday, also shot a two-over 72.
“The greens definitely started drying out on the back nine, and the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, and some holes really started playing quite demanding,” Scott said.
Koepka said before the tournament he thinks majors are the easiest tournaments to win, and he seems hell-bent on backing up his words. He is looking to become the first player to hold two major championship titles back-to-back at the same time. The 29-year-old is the defending PGA Champion and already the reigning back-to-back U.S. Open champion. He will also become world number one with a win.
“I don’t need a sports psychologist, I’m pretty good at it, I know what I’m doing,” he said. “It’s simpler than what guys think. Guys make the mistake of trying to figure out, when they get to a major, what’s going on, what’s different. It’s not. It’s just focus. It’s grind it out, suck it up, and move on.”
Koepka plans to do just that on Sunday.
THE BEST OF THE REST
The low rounds of the day on Saturday came from V3 and Jazzy J.
Alright fine, we’ll try that again.
The low rounds of the day on Saturday came from Harold Varner III and Jazz Janewattananond, who both shot three-under-par 67s to jump into a tie for second with Dustin Johnson and Luke List at five-under. It was the second consecutive 67 for Varner after he opened with a one-over 71.
Varner doesn’t share the popular opinion that Koepka’s domination has taken some of the air out of the weekend. The 28-year-old American is prepared to use Koepka for motivation.
“I think it’s great for golf. If you don’t go to sleep and think, man, this makes me want to work harder, if I can be that good, then I don’t know why you’re playing,” Varner said. “I don’t know, you can’t sit there and just weep and be like, he’s so much better. I think that’s going to push you. It almost pisses me off. That’s what I think.”
WOULD, COULD, SHOULDA
For a moment on Saturday, it looked like world No. 1 Johnson might lift himself into the conversation with his workout buddy Koepka.
Johnson made four birdies on the front to make the turn at seven-under par. Had he managed to match his front nine 32 with another on the back, he would have begun Sunday at 10-under par, just two shots back.
But enough fan fiction. Back in reality, Johnson bogeyed four of his last nine holes, including a missed three-and-a-half-footer at the tenth, to finish one-under for the day and in the four-way tie for second at five-under.
“Just made too many bogeys,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t one thing or the other. Wind got me a couple of times. You know, hit some drives that I thought should have ended up better than they did.”
Hideki Matsuyama and Matt Wallace are tied at four-under, one shot behind the group in second and eight shots behind Koepka. Four golfers, including Spieth and Scott are tied at three-under.
After saying on Friday that his back-nine rally to make the cut was fueled by pride, Rory McIlroy shot his first under par round on Saturday, a one-under 69.
“I hit the ball as good as I’ve hit it in a while and gave myself plenty of chances,” McIlroy said. “If I had just made a couple of putts, I could have definitely shot 65, 66 easily out there today.”
McIlroy enters Sunday at two-over par for the week, tied for 26th.
Canada’s Adam Hadwin is also at two-over after shooting a level-par 70 on Saturday. Corey Conners had his worst round of the week, shooting a six-over 76 to fall to 10-over.
“The short game has let me down quite a bit the past few days,” Conners said. “People talk about the ball striking being key here but you’re going to be out of position at times and the guys who are at the top of the leaderboard are going to be saving shots by getting up and down.”
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