Brooks Koepka sometimes gets ignored on television in the list of notable scores. In the gym, he gets overlooked by Dustin Johnson There is no mistaking him in a major.
Koepka bullied rain-softened Bellerive on Saturday in the PGA Championship, building a five-shot lead until he had to scramble to avoid a slide on the back nine. He settled for a 4-under 66 and a two-shot lead over Adam Scott going into the final round of the final major of the year.
At stake is a chance to win three of the last six majors he played, and to join an elite list – Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen – as the only players to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year.
“You can’t hide when you’re on the top of the leaderboard,” he said. “You can’t hide my name. So just try to get to the top of the leaderboard and work from there.”
Even so, one misstep and it might be easy to get lost at this major.
Scott had a 65, despite missing three putts from 6 feet, two of them for birdie. He is struggling through his worst season since he turned pro in 2000, and now has a chance to turn it into a year he won’t forget.
Ten players were within four shots of the lead, no name bigger – no buzz bigger – than Woods. He completed his second round Saturday morning with a 66, and then had another 66 in the afternoon that was so good it was the worst he could have shot. He made nothing but pars over the last 10 holes. On seven of the last eight holes, Woods had a birdie or eagle putt of 20 feet or closer and missed them all.
He was four shots behind in a tie for sixth, the same spot he was in going in the final day at the British Open last month, when he briefly had the lead before fading.
“I just wish I could have got myself a couple more shots closer to the lead,” Woods said. “But there aren’t a lot of guys up there in front of me.”
The list included Jon Rahm (66), Rickie Fowler (69) and Gary Woodland (71), who gave himself a chance despite falling six shots behind after a triple bogey from his footprints in the sand at No. 10.
Koepka was at 12-under 198 and even with his major pedigree – the first player with back-to-back U.S. Opens in 29 years – he will play in the final group of a major for the first time. Koepka was in the penultimate group at the U.S. Opens he won.
He plans to spend Sunday morning working out, as he has done all week at a local gym. Koepka was there Saturday morning with Johnson and noticed everyone trying to get pictures of the world’s No. 1 player.
“They were like, ‘Did you see the No. 1 player in the world was here?’ I don’t know what to say to that,” Koepka said with a laugh.
He cares only about inside the ropes, and he thrives in the majors.
“Every shot’s so important out here,” he said.
No shots were more important than a four-hole stretch he played in 2 over that turned Sunday into what could be a free-for-all.
An 8-foot par save on No. 13 gave him a five-shot lead, but then two errant drives led to consecutive bogeys – the first one from 100 feet away in a bunker, ending a streak of 43 holes without a bogey, the next one when his tee shot stopped rolling at the base of a tree and forced him to take a one-shot penalty to move it away. He had to get up-and-down to limited the damage to a bogey. And then he made a 10-foot par.
“Try to make the best out of a bad situation and keep rolling,” Koepka said.
Koepka won the U.S. Open on two different courses that required one extreme to the other in scoring – 16 under at Erin Hills, 1 over at Shinnecock Hills. Bellerive presents a different test. It’s so soft that the average score Saturday was 69.5, and a charge can come from anywhere.
“Not just myself, but everyone’s going to have to shoot low rounds,” Woods said. “It’s soft, it’s gettable, and you can’t just go out there and make a bunch of pars.”
Scott got into the hunt with four birdies in a six-hole stretch on the front, set up by his pure driving and iron play, and limited mistakes with the putter. His only miss was from inside 3 feet for par on the 15th hole, though he answered immediately with a tee shot to 2 feet at the par-3 16th.
He doesn’t think anything will match the joy of being the first Aussie to win the Masters in 2013. He’d like to find out how much another major feels, especially in a year in which he has registered just one top 10.
“It’s a packed leaderboard and there are going to be about 10 of us looking for that round of the year,” Scott said. “Someone will go out and do it and I’m glad I’m in that position that it could be me.”
As easy as it looks at times, Bellerive can still bite at any moment.
Jordan Spieth found that out on a hole that effectively ended his second bid for the career Grand Slam. From well right of the 12th fairway, he tried to hit through a gap and instead caromed off a tree and out-of-bounds, leading to triple bogey and falling back to 4 under for the tournament. He had to settle for a 69 and was eight shots behind, with 27 players in front of him.
No one paid more dearly than Woodland. Three shots behind at the turn, he and Kevin Kisner were in a front bunker. Woodland went over the green onto a slope at the back of another bunker, and his next shot went through the green back into the first bunker. The sand had yet to be raked, and Woodland’s ball was in his footprints. He wound up with triple bogey, and scrambled to get back in the mix.
“Really confident going into tomorrow with the way I fought the last eight holes,” he said.