Still, that’s what host venue for this year’s PGA Championship, the TPC Harding Park course in San Francisco, appeared to do in Saturday’s third round, with Koepka enduring a horror show of three consecutive bogeys – a streak which may well have crushed the spirits. and the morale of many golfers.
Let’s be very clear on what’s at stake this week in California. Koepka seeks to become the first man to win the same major tournament three times in a row since Peter Thomson triumphed in the Open Championship from 1954 to 1956.
The 30-year-old’s response to adversity was simply typical of a man who made no secret of the fact that winning majors is the lifeblood of his game. And no one knows it better than his compatriot Dustin Johnson , who is at nine-under par for the tournament and will take a one-shot lead in Sunday’s final round and currently has a two-stroke advantage over Koepka.
The seemingly nerve-wracking Floridian, a fierce contender at best, fought back in style to finish with two birdies in his last three holes for a 69 inning in the process, sending a very clear message to his rivals. About as clear as the nod he gave the TV cameras the moment he sank that putt at 18.
Now Koepka is famous for his mental toughness. He just never lacks confidence and he’s rarely slow to publicly throw the gauntlet at his rivals.
Johnson – whose only major title so far has come at the 2016 US Open at Oakmont – is a former training buddy of Koepka who pushed his fellow American throughout last year’s PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in New York before finally falling short.
Never one to hesitate to say what he thinks, the two-time defending champion says he loves his chances of winning once again, adding, “When I was in this position before, I capitalized. don’t know, he only won one. I’m playing well. We’ll see. ”
In pursuit of the great
With a win, Koepka would become the third youngest player to win five majors since WWII and what for the company?
He would only be behind Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. But if he wants to seal his fifth major title, he will have to do so in front of any fan in this first major tournament of 2020 after the sport was shut down for several months due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Koepka – who says he’s “very comfortable with the lead in big events” – as always clearly relishes the challenge, revealing that “it’s going to feel completely different from anything we’ve ever played. looking forward to it should be a fun shootout. “
For his part, Johnson knows the margin for error is small. His eight birdies on Saturday en route to a superb round of five under par of 65 scored the most he has ever recorded in a single round at a major, but more than anyone he will be well aware of past failures when he It’s about closing out various other majors over the years, most notably at this particular event ten years ago in Whistling Straits, Wisconsin.
In fact, now is the fourth time he’s held the 54-hole lead or the co-lead of a major. On the three previous occasions, he has failed to seal the victory.
For the player known as the DJ, the search for that elusive second major continues, with Koepka wasting no time tapping into his experiences of becoming a multiple major winner saying he thinks the expectations make him even bigger. difficult.
“I guess it gets harder if you think you’ve played well enough to win a couple of them. But you have to keep going. I’m doing a good job. But the second is definitely a little harder. , as you can see at the top of the leaderboard. “
But Johnson – who has now shot eight consecutive rounds in the sixties at the PGA Championship – feels he has matured and now has a wealth of experience to draw upon, especially with many other contenders still on the hunt for their major breakthrough. The 36-year-old says he looks forward to the challenge, adding: “I’ve been in the chase a number of times in a major. I have a major, so having that experience will definitely be beneficial.”
Johnson even had to overcome his own adversity on Saturday. His round of 65, which included a double bogey at one point, was already pretty impressive, but even more so when you consider that he later revealed that he was actually missing the most vital element for a game. of his round – his book of footage, stuffed full. of course the notes and the distances.
Luckily for the former world number one, help was close at hand thanks to his brother and caddy Austin who had a spare even though it wasn’t specifically configured for Harding Park. So what happened to the original?
“I think it must be in the back of my bag,” Johnson revealed before giving more information on the getaway on the course. “I didn’t want to take all of my clubs onto the golf course. But AJ had an extra one so we were fine.”
Sunday’s final round should be a compelling viewing. Johnson is just one step ahead of compatriots Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Champ, while some big names and previous big winners intentionally hide amid a crowded standings.
In addition to the seven-under Koepka, Englishman Justin Rose is just three shots back, as are 2015 Australian champion Jason Day and big-shot Bryson DeChambeau, who drained a monster 95-foot putt on the way to a 68.
Round three leader Haotong Li of China slipped to three of 73 but is still chasing four headshots.
Meanwhile, another disappointing exit for the great American Tiger Woods who finds himself two over for the tournament after a third round 72.
The 44-year-old is currently 11 shots back and has acknowledged that it is increasingly difficult to add to his 15 majors tally with Koepka and Johnson in their prime.
“It is more and more difficult to win events,” he said.
“When I look at the leaderboard I see the same handful of guys. They understand how to win the majors and how to move forward. Guys who understand how to play tough golf courses will be up there, crowds or no crowds.”