As the final round of the 2019 PGA Championship rolled along, with stiff winds battering Bethpage Black, some recent words had sharper meaning. Back in the first round, after Brooks Koepka had shot a stunning 63, someone asked Rickie Fowler how close he’d have to be to Koepka come the final round. Said Fowler: “What makes you think he’s going to be leading?
I would say there’s no lead really safe here.”
The other observation came from Koepka himself, after he’d finished the third round leading by seven. Was there any doubt he would win? someone wondered. Said Koepka, “No.”
Luke List, one of the four players tied for second after the third round, saluting Koepka’s play, had said, “I think we’re all playing for second.” Actually, it was for third or beyond, after Dustin Johnson got rolling and turned the PGA into a two-man battle.
Fowler was right. No lead was safe. And Koepka was wrong. There was doubt. Strong winds had come up, making a tough course even tougher. Of the 82 players who survived the cut, only 11 would break the par of 70 in the final round — two 68s and nine 69s. Koepka was not one of them. There was Dustin Johnson, trailing by seven, on his chances of overtaking his good pal. “I’m going to need some help from him,” Johnson said, “and then I’m going to have to play very, very well.”
In punishing winds. “The wind was just really eating the ball up when you’re hitting it into it,” Johnson was to say. And said Paul Casey, after shooting one of the 69s: “There’s a dog near the scoring area with a little jacket on it, says ‘Emotional Support Dog,’ which is what I feel like I need.” In the final round, Koepka was at even par through the front. He’d bogeyed No. 1 after missing the fairway, but birdied the par-five No. 4, hitting the fairway and two-putting from 24 feet.
Johnson, playing two groups ahead, made up ground with three birdies on the front nine, even after missing one fairway. His approaches were laser-like. He birdied on putts of four, eight and two feet.
It was like match play two groups apart.
Koepka then got his second birdie at the 10th, again hitting the fairway and then stuffing his approach with a gap wedge from 156 yards to two feet. Johnson got just the chance he was hoping for on the final nine. He’d bogeyed the 11th, missing the fairway, but got the stroke back with a birdie at the 15th, the toughest hole on the course.
Behind him, Koepka was pouring out the help in a string of bogeys, but Johnson couldn’t capitalize on the gift. “Just the last three holes is what got me,” Johnson said. “Standing on 16 fairway, I’m at eight under, and hit two really good shots.” His five-iron second pierced the wind and flew the green. “Hit the shot I wanted,” Johnson said.
“I don’t know how it flew 200 yards into the wind.” He bogeyed, and then bogeyed the par-three 17th, missing the green. A tee shot into the bunker at the 18th killed his hopes of a birdie there, but he parred for a 69 and a six-under 274.
“I knew, starting seven back, that it was going to be a big feat to catch Brooks,” Johnson said. “I definitely gave him a run, though, so I was happy with that.”
Koepka had launched a near-fatal stretch of four straight bogeys from the 11th, all on errant tee shots. He drove into a bunker at the par-four 11th and saved his bogey on a six-foot putt; drove into the right rough at the par-four 12th and two-putted from 17 feet; missed the fairway at the par-five 13th and two-putted from six feet, and missed the green at the par-three 14th and two-putted from 23 feet.
And at this point, he got the flavor of the fans. They began chanting “D.J.! D.J.!”
“It’s New York,” Koepka said. “What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away?”
He had yet one more bogey. He hit the green at 17, but three-putted from 40 feet.
With Johnson already in and leading at six-under 274, Koepka closed with style. At the par-four 18th, he missed the fairway — again — but was on in three and holed a six-foot putt, with a great yell and a thrust of his right arm. He’d shot four-over 74 and an eight-under 272 and won by two.
“It was definitely a test,” Koepka said. “I never thought about failing. Even if I would have lost, I guess you could say I choked it away. [But] I was trying my butt off. … I tried my hardest. Sometimes that’s all you’ve got.”
It was his fourth victory in his last eight majors. “Four out of eight,”
Koepka said. “I like the way that sounds.”
The final leaders: Brooks Koepka 74–272, Dustin Johnson 69–274, Jordan Spieth 71–278, Patrick Cantlay 71–278, Matt Wallace 72–278, Luke List 74–279.