FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka concedes he’s motivated by actual and imagined slights. So he needed to discover Tuesday when his look at a PGA Championship information convention was greeted by the sight of journalists scrambling out of the room like newspaper reporters — with press playing cards tucked of their fedoras — racing for a financial institution of pay telephones in an previous, black-and-white movie.
Tiger Woods had simply exited stage left after his personal group interview, and why did anybody want to stay round to listen to from the defending champ? Finally month’s Masters, after delivering probably the most memorable second of his life, the 43-year-old Woods turned what he had been in his dominant prime: probably the most recognizable and revered athlete on the planet. Two days earlier than the beginning of the subsequent main, the colorless Koepka had no likelihood to compete towards that.
However Thursday morning at Bethpage Black, Koepka had his likelihood to compete towards Woods in a way more favorable enviornment. They have been grouped with Francesco Molinari and despatched to the 10th tee, the place every man shook fingers with their customary bearer, 16-year-old Alden Miller of Manhattan, after which, at eight:24 a.m. ET, began swinging away in what felt like a U.S. Open Championship inside a moist and monstrous ballpark that had already hosted two.
Koepka birdied their fist gap from 40 ft away, and Woods double-bogeyed after muttering to himself when he realized his drive was heading for the gnarly tough. The muscleman who defeated Woods eventually summer time’s PGA at Bellerive had landed what he would later describe because the defining punch on this 18-round battle, leaving the person who had defeated him at Augusta Nationwide making an attempt in useless to regain his footing.
Later, when surveying Koepka’s course report of 7-under 63, Woods stated his opponent had posted “in all probability the very best rating he might have shot as we speak.” It was a hell of a praise from the legend who shot 72 and was left with a nine-shot deficit that appeared inconceivable to beat when contemplating the Tiger-like qualities of a 29-year-old chief who stands as probably the most ominous hurdle on Woods’ renewed chase of Jack Nicklaus’ report of 18 main titles.
That is all Tiger’s fault, after all, as a result of he impressed a era of golfers who grew up watching him. Koepka was 6 years previous when Woods gained his first of 15 main championships — the 1997 Masters. Although Koepka’s father, Bob, used to tease his highschool classmates for incomes letterman jackets for golf as a result of, he stated, “I did not assume it was a sport,” Tiger helped make golf a viable possibility for Brooks and different versatile younger athletes who lived within the gymnasium and most well-liked to look extra like NFL robust safeties.
“Brooks has by no means been a golf nerd,” was the way in which his swing coach, Claude Harmon III, put it.
Now the swaggering Koepka has three main victories to his identify, together with back-to-back U.S. Opens (the primary man to try this since Curtis Unusual in 1989), he feels free to declare his intent to win at the least seven extra.
“Yeah, I’ve obtained a quantity,” he stated. “I do not see why you’ll be able to’t get to double digits.”
Koepka would clarify that majors are simpler to win than minors (He has solely two non-major tour victories), that he is mentally stronger than half the opponents, and that the strain will finally break most of the 35 gamers which might be legit contenders.
“It solely leaves you with just a few extra,” he reasoned, “and also you simply need to beat these guys.”
Koepka possible wanted just one spherical at Bethpage to beat a type of guys, Woods. Tiger was sick and stayed in mattress Wednesday somewhat than play his scheduled 9 apply holes, leaving him with solely 9 holes of labor all week and 18 the week earlier than. His muscle reminiscence from successful the 2002 U.S. Open right here could not overcome the dearth of apply, and the dearth of any aggressive rounds since he gained his fifth inexperienced jacket and made the world cease and cry.
Woods overcame a second double bogey on the par-Three 17th, the place he was buried in a bunker, by opening his second 9 by making two birdies after which by sinking a 31-foot, right-to-left eagle putt on the fourth that put him below par for the primary time. Tied for 58th on the flip, Woods was immediately tied for fifth and solely 4 off the lead. A fan had yelled at him, “Koepka’s afraid of you,” a declare that was the worst play of the day.
Tiger bogeyed three of the subsequent 4 holes earlier than Koepka completed his bogey-free spherical with a 33-foot birdie. Whereas the 2 have been sitting within the scoring room, Woods turned to Koepka and stated, “Phenomenal spherical.”
Outdoors, Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, defined that his boss — as soon as a self-confessed school hothead who broke lots of golf equipment in anger — by no means appears rattled in majors. Requested how Koepka stays so calm, Elliott stated, “I do not know. It should be simply in him.”
Woods clearly respects Koepka’s poise and his energy. Tiger shocked final summer time’s PGA Championship winner by ready for him to finish his closing spherical to congratulate him on a job nicely achieved; Koepka returned the favor at Augusta. As they approached the 12th inexperienced collectively Thursday, Woods and Koepka shared just a few laughs. They talked and laughed once more throughout their prolonged wait on the tee field at No. Three.
Tiger respects golfers who might have efficiently competed in different sports activities, and people who would by no means be intimidated by him. Koepka is among the many treasured few in that class. He is stronger than Tiger, longer than Tiger and simply as decided as Tiger.
“The factor I get from this child is he is obtained lots of confidence, and nothing bothers him,” stated Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. “He was oblivious to the group screaming and yelling for Tiger.”
Not all the time. Koepka is human, and he is made it clear up to now he is felt underappreciated. He seen when, after successful two majors final yr, he wasn’t among the many eight Tour Championship gamers invited to conduct a pre-tournament information convention.
Koepka admitted that “you have to discover a chip, or you have to discover one thing to encourage your self, and provide you with that additional little one thing going right into a event … to essentially need to push you over that line”
He pushed himself over the road Thursday, when he shot 63 with out birdieing both of the par 5s on a course he referred to as “brutal.” When it was over, Koepka was requested what he had borrowed from Tiger’s strategy and mentality within the majors in his prime and utilized to his personal sport.
“Simply to grind on each shot,” he stated. “You may’t take a shot off. … Simply by no means hand over, battle by it. You may’t take something as a right on the market.”
That is the Frankenstein monster Woods helped create, and now Koepka threatens the resurgent Tiger’s designs on the Nicklaus grail of 18 main victories. Can Brooks block Woods’ march on historical past?
To be decided. If nothing else in Spherical 1 at Bethpage, the defending champ made an announcement along with his golf equipment that was louder than anybody’s phrases.