Brooks Koepka celebrates on the 18th green at Oak Hill
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Six weeks after feeling he “choked” in the final round of the Masters, Brooks Koepka held his nerve to overcome a spirited challenge from Viktor Hovland to win the US PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
Koepka carded a closing 67 to finish nine under par and claim his third US PGA title, his fifth major overall and the first for a player on the Saudi-funded LIV Golf League.
Hovland traded blows with Koepka until a costly double bogey on the 16th, but a birdie on the 18th deservedly gave the Norwegian a share of second place with Scottie Scheffler on seven under.
Koepka took a one-shot lead over Hovland and Corey Conners into the final round, having enjoyed double that advantage following 54 holes of the Masters in April.
The 33-year-old carded a closing 75 at Augusta National to finish second to Jon Rahm and felt he had choked under pressure, but exorcised those demons at the first opportunity.
The former world number one made a flying start with a hat-trick of birdies from the second and was momentarily four shots clear before Hovland matched his birdie on the fourth.
Hovland also birdied the fifth to close the gap and was within a single stroke when Koepka pushed his drive on the sixth into Allen’s Creek and was unable to save par.
Koepka doubled his lead with a birdie on the 10th, only to then see his approach to the next plug in a greenside bunker.
After blasting out to 12 feet, Koepka saw his par attempt lip out and although he bounced back immediately to birdie the 12th, he could not shake off a resolute Hovland.
The 25-year-old, who was in contention for the third consecutive major, took advantage of the par-five 13th to keep the pressure firmly on and both men birdied the short 14th to effectively turn it into a two-horse race.
However, in a carbon copy of what happened to Conners in round three, Hovland drilled his second shot into the face of a fairway bunker on the 16th to run up a double bogey.
Hovland pushed Koepka but his challenge came to an end at the 16th
Koepka’s birdie gave him a four-shot lead and he could afford to bogey the 17th and par the last to complete an impressive victory.
Scheffler had got within two of the lead thanks to birdies on the 10th, 13th and 14th, but had to wait until the 18th to pick up another shot and complete a superb 65.
World number one Rahm, commentating for CBS following a closing 71 which left him seven over par, had been full of praise for Koepka after his blistering start.
“He is a player that, when he gets in contention, is like a shark in the water,” Rahm said.
“He smells blood, especially on these types of courses. It suits his mentality of being even keel, plodding along and taking opportunities when they come.
“He came out aggressive and I don’t think people realise how dangerous some of these hole locations are. To be that precise (on the second) to give yourself three feet straight up the hill is incredible.”
Open champion Cameron Smith recorded the joint lowest round of the week to date with a closing 65 and insisted no one should be surprised that he and fellow LIV players like Koepka were able to compete at the highest level.
“I gave up on that narrative about six months ago,” Smith said with a smile. “I think there’s been a few guys that have been trying to kick it along a little bit.
“We’re still out there. We haven’t forgot how to play golf. We’re all great golfers out there, and we know what we can do, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Rory McIlroy began the day five shots behind Koepka and made the ideal start with a birdie from tap-in distance on the first, but bogeyed two of the next three holes and eventually signed for a third straight 69.
McIlroy at least had the best seat in the house for an extraordinary performance from playing partner Michael Block, the 46-year-old club professional making a hole-in-one on the 15th in a closing 71 that secured a place in the field at Valhalla next year.
Justin Rose was within three of the lead when he birdied the first and chipped in to save par on the second, but had to settle for a closing 71 to finish one under.
Compatriot Tyrrell Hatton was left to rue a nightmare opening round of 77 after subsequent scores of 68, 69 and 67 proved what was possible and left him in a tie for 15th.
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