BETHPAGE, N.Y. — After 11 hours, three minutes and 6,005 golf shots on Saturday, we’re right back were we started.
Brooks Koepka woke up this morning at 12 under par, seven shots clear of a pack of contenders who, although they would never admit it, were playing for second. He will go to bed this evening at 12 under par, seven shots clear of a pack of contenders who, whether they like it or not, are playing for second.
So much for Moving Day.
“I’m definitely not going to let up,” Koepka said Saturday. “I can promise you that.”
Koepka did exactly what he needed to do in his third round at Bethpage Black, playing solid if unspectacular golf to tighten his already-suffocating chokehold on this PGA Championship. The only real takeaway from his even-par 70 is that he is that much closer to his fourth major championship in eight tries, that much closer to becoming the back-to-back U.S. Open and the back-to-back PGA champion—something no one else in the history of the game has done.
But Koepka has never been motivated by golf statistics. Hell, he can’t even hype himself up for regular PGA Tour events (he’s won only two of those, compared to three majors). He’s motivated by narratives: proving everyone wrong, asserting himself as the game’s top dog, showing people they’re rooting for the wrong guy, that sort of thing. Last year, before the final round of the U.S. Open, he took on his friend in a weightlifting competition because, in Koepka’s own words, he “told me I couldn’t do it.”
On the first tee Saturday, Jordan Spieth received a noticeably louder applause than Koepka did. You better believe Koepka noticed that slight, whether the crowed intended it or not. He always notices. A minute later, he took a preposterously aggressive line and ripped his opening tee shot 337 yards. Right down the pipe. It was the longest tee shot on that hole all day.
With one swing, Koepka showed us exactly how he would handle the tricky proposition of playing with a massive lead. The fans and media and oddsmakers handed him the trophy on Friday night, but the truth is, Koepka had never been in that position before. He’s won three majors, yes, but he didn’t have the outright 36-hole lead in any of them. Would he play ultra conservatively? Feel the pressure? Get away from his game plan? Nah. He stuck his wedge on the first hole to six feet, and while he missed that putt, he rebounded with a birdie on No. 2.
No one got closer than within five strokes all day, and the only time it seemed we might actually have, you know, a golf tournament lasted about two minutes. Luke List, of all people, had birdied three straight holes to reach -7. Meanwhile, Koepka had pushed a drive right—if forced to identify one “flaw” in his game this week, it’s been going right off the tee—of the 13th fairway, which is not where you want to miss. Officials indicated that his ProV1x was lying in between two trees. If it was too close to one of them, he’d have to pitch out for the first time all week.
It didn’t, though. His tremendous play has been amplified by some good breaks all week, and he got yet another one. The lie was reasonable, the path was clear, and he advanced the layup nearly 200 yards.
To the victor go the spoils. He made birdie. If he was ever concerned, even for a second, he didn’t show it.
“I don’t need a sports psychologist,” he said—a solid submission for Understatement of the Year.
List, on the other hand, wound up bogeying his final two holes to finish at -5, and Dustin Johnson made 5 on the beautiful-but-benign 18th hole to post that same number. It seemed like no one wanted a spot in the final group for a front-row seat to Koepka’s coronation.
But someone has to see it first-hand, and that person will be Harold Varner III. He posted a three-under 67, equaling the best round of the day, to post the first -5 a full hour before Koepka and Spieth holed their final putts.
“If you don't go to sleep and think, man, this makes me want to work harder, then I don't know why you're playing,” said Varner III.
“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.”
Varner III and Johnson and List, and…deep breath…Jazz Janewattananond (-5), and Hideki Matusyama (-4) and Matt Wallace (-4), will play 18 holes on Sunday. They will talk before the round about playing their game and assuring whoever will listen that “anything can happen.” In reality, everyone knows what will happen. Koepka will complete the wire-to-wire victory and further cement himself as one of golf's true alpha males.
“I mean, it is just another day of work for me,” he said of winning a major championship at maybe the hardest golf course in America. “You know, come out here, practice, get here an hour and a half early, beat balls for an hour and hopefully get out there and play under a five-hour round and play solid.”
A solid round will suffice. A good one would be better and a poor one might make things interesting. That’s where we’re at. Koepka has sucked all the mystery out of this golf tournament. We know who will win. The only question is by how many.