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Koepka Repels Johnson's Challenge to Win 4th Major title

Koepka has held off a spirited challenge from good friend Dustin Johnson (Photo: Getty Images / Jamie Squire)
One of the great things about tournament golf is that no lead, irrespective of its size, can be taken for granted or considered safe and in today’s final round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black even further proof, if required, became evident.

Admittedly the winner, Brooks Koepka, was eventually able to hold onto his lead and win by two but the seven-shot lead he began the day with and the six-shot lead he still held through 10 holes quickly dwindled to just one four holes later with Dustin Johnson throwing down the gauntlet.

Four consecutive bogeys from the 11th by Koepka and a birdie at the 15th by Johnson closed the gap to just one and with the demands of Bethpage’s finishing stretch ahead of him, Koepka needed to dig deep to stop the rot.

Somehow, and perhaps reflecting the amazing inner strength and calm he has displayed in his now four major championship titles, Koepka was able to do just that, holing a crucial four-footer for par at the 15th and another tester for par at the 16th.

He would miss a 5 footer for par at the 17th but, courtesy of Johnson's two late bogeys, he was able to take a two-shot lead to the last and after laying up from the thick rough left of the fairway he pitched out sideways and then pitched to 5 feet which he holed for his wire to wire victory.

The win moves Koepka to the number one position in the men’s game for the 4th occasion having held it briefly three times late in 2018.

It was Koepka’s fourth major title in his last eight appearances and with now four major titles to his name only Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are ahead of him in terms of the number of majors won by players still competing at this level.

“It's been so much fun these last two years, it's pretty close to two years," said Koepka. "It's incredible. I don't think I even thought I was going to do it that fast. I don't think anybody did, and to be standing here today with four majors, it's mind-blowing.

“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was; how stressful DJ made that. That was probably definitely - I know for a fact, that was the most excited I've ever been in my life ever there on 18."

Koepka joins Rory McIlory and Ernie Els as current players with four major championship titles to their name.

Johnson, just as he had done at the Masters six weeks ago, worked his way into a potentially winning position with a strong final round and, although it was not to be, his final round challenge was impressive.

It was perhaps no surprise that the winner and runner-up are not only the most talented players in the game they are two of the most powerful, combining that power and instinctive skill to tame the demanding Bethpage layout considerably better than the rest of the field was able to do.

Koepka finished two clear of Johnson but Johnson was four clear of the 3rd placed Jordan Spieth, Patrick Cantlay and England’s Matt Wallace, further highlighting the domination the powerful leading pair displayed.

Johnson was the only one to apply the much-needed pressure on Koepka but despite his valiant attempt it fell short with bogeys at the 16th and 17th holes.

“I knew if I could get off to a good start, which I did, you know, that I could maybe put a little bit of pressure on him, and you know, I did that, too,” said Johnson.

“Just the last three holes is what got me. Walking off 15 green, well, really, standing on 16 fairway, I'm at 8-under, and hit two really good shots there on 16, and I still don't know how my ball went over the green there. Obviously not a spot where you can go, but hit a great chip and a good putt, and you know, made a 5.

I knew I needed to birdie one of the last two when I did that.”

Johnson was asked if was surprised he had a chance to win given Koepka’s large lead through 54 holes.

“I mean, no, not surprised, just because, like I said, the conditions were so tough. This is a tough golf course. I mean, it's a tough golf course no matter what the conditions are, but you know, every hole out here is tough. It's not like it's just there's a few hard holes. They are all hard. You've got to hit the fairway, and they are not very wide.

"You know, the rough is very, very penal, and so it's -- yeah, it's just difficult. So I mean, you played three really good rounds. So you kind of think you're due for the one that you're not spot on, and today, if you weren't spot on today, you were going to struggle. I mean, as you can see the scores, there were not too many good scores today.”

And what are his thoughts on the man who has replaced him at the top of the world ranking?

“I mean, Brooks is a great player. I play a lot of golf with him. He's one of my good buddies. You know, very happy for him, for his win. He's one of the guys that I look for that I have to beat. He's one of the best players out here, so he's always somebody that I've got my eye on."

Adam Scott finished as the leading Australian, adding yet another top ten major finish (his 17th in addition to his Masters win) when he shared 8th place. Three dropped shots in the last five holes cost him a considerably higher finish but he was not alone in that regard and all in all it was a good week for him.

Of the other three Australians to make the weekend, Jason Day was 23rd, Cameron Smith 64th and Lucas Herbert 71st.

 

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