FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Brooks Koepka says he has no doubt he can finish the deal Sunday and win the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, so who are we to disagree?
The 29-year-old strongman from South Florida set a 36-hole scoring record for all major championships in roaring out to a 7-stroke lead. Then on Saturday, he shot his worst round of the week, a 70, with three bogeys and still ended the day leading by seven.
The probability is that Koepka will finish this thing off and become only the fourth wire-to-wire winner (leading at the end of each of the four rounds) in PGA Championship history and the first since Hal Sutton in 1983 at Riviera. A subpar round could be enough to shatter the event record for largest margin of victory, eight strokes, set in 2012 by Rory McIlroy at Kiawah Island.
As for his 72-hole scoring record, a 264 last year at Bellerive, Koepka would need a 65 to better that. The way he’s going, he would surprise few people. In any event, he would win his fourth career major (in his last eight attempts) and be the first player in history to hold back-to-back U.S. Open and PGA championships at the same time.
For those who watch NASCAR races just for the wrecks, the major championship record for largest final-round collapse is six shots held by Greg Norman at the 1996 Masters. Norman shot a 78 on the final day and lost by five to Nick Faldo, the last of Faldo’s six major titles.
Of the players tied for second, Harold Varner III and Luke List never have won a PGA Tour event, though Varner did win the 2017 Australian PGA Championship. Jazz Janewattananond has three wins on the Asian Tour.
The fourth member of this group is world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who threatened to make a charge Saturday but almost offset his six birdies with five bogeys. He could attempt another rally Sunday.
Kopeka tees off in the final pairing with Harold Varner III at 2:35 p.m. CBS has the television coverage from 2 p.m. until conclusion.
Not an easy day.
The fact that the best score on Saturday was 3-under par, by Varner and Janewattananond, could be blamed on a combination of factors – a tough course setup that included 7,403 yards in length and hole locations that were tucked near the edges of green, plus winds that increased as the afternoon went on. In all, 17 players broke par for the round.
For Sunday, officials took 20 yards off Saturday’s course length, to 7,383. As for hole locations, eight of them are five yards or less from the edge of a green, and four are six yards from the edge.
As for weather, the day on Long Island dawned cloudy with light winds. The wind velocity will increase as the day goes on with gusts of up to 25 miles an hour by 2 p.m. and extending into the evening hours. A chance of thunderstorms increases around sunset but the last players on the course, Koepka and Varner, should be done by then.
In the unlikely event of a playoff, it would be a three-hole aggregate score contest over the first, 17th and 18th holes at Bethpage Black.
Gimme my money.
The winner will be awarded the Rodman Wanamaker Trophy, named after the son of Philadelphia department store founder John Wanamaker. Rodman and the 35 leading golf figures of the day founded the PGA of America in 1916 in New York.
And then there’s the paycheck, a cool $1,980,000 from the total prize money of $11 million. Second place is a not-too-shabby $1,188,000, although if it remains a four-way tie for second at the end of the Sunday, each contestant would receive a paltry sum of $728,625.