Keeping Score

Koepka cues Fat Lady to warm up at PGA

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – It is difficult to say whether a glass is half-empty or half-full. It is not difficult to decide whether a major championship is half-done or completely over.

The 101st PGA Championship, ladies and gents, is realistically over. Brooks Koepka has played golf like a 2001-vintage Tiger Woods. He’s played Bethpage Black like he’s playing a video game.

Brooks Koepka
Brooks Koepka cruises to a 7-stroke lead in the PGA, leaving little doubt as to the eventual winner.

Here’s the scary part: Thursday, he shot 63, a score that could’ve been lower if he hadn’t failed to birdie both par 5s and missed a 5-foot putt. “A 60 would’ve been pretty nice,” Koepka conceded. Friday, he didn’t have his best stuff, he said. He battled. He grinded. He struggled. And he still shot 65. Say it again: His bad round is 65.

That’s classic Woods. Woodsian, if you want a word that makes you sound professor-ish.

There are only so many ways to say it. Koepka has dominated this PGA like few players have done in major championships. His 36-hole score of 128 is the lowest halfway mark ever posted in a major championship. If his first two rounds were a movie, they would be “Unstoppable,” with Koepka as the runaway train and Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott as the gung-ho railroad engineers trying to catch up.

Koepka leads by a touchdown – OK, seven shots over Spieth and Scott. Only six other players are within nine shots (scores).

Is there a reason for optimism? No. Koepka has won three of the past eight majors. He has won back-to-back U.S. Opens and will be going for a three-peat next month. He won last year’s PGA. He played 27 holes this week before he made a bogey.

The only question left to ask, it seems, is by how many lengths will Secretariat win this PGA?

These first two rounds of the first PGA Championship played in May this century have been so remarkable, awards should be passed out. So here are the First Not Annual PGA Championship Halfway Point/Half-Vast Awards…

Best Preview of Coming Attractions: It has to be Koepka, playing with Masters champion Tiger Woods and British Open winner Francesco Molinari in the PGA’s marquee pairing, pouring in a 35-foot birdie putt from the fringe on their first hole in the opening round. Uh-ttennn-hut!!

Best Metaphoric Sound of a Door Slamming Shut: It’s Koepka again, who went birdie-birdie to open the second round, then added a third birdie on the fourth hole. The birdie at No. 1 was sick. Koepka bombed a 331-yard driver over the trees to cut the corner. From there, he had a mere pitch shot from 59 yards. He put it inside of 4 feet and made the birdie putt. When the third birdie got Koepka to 10 under, that sound was Hope falling down the steps as the Door of Opportunity closed behind her.

Best Contending Hair: We can retire this award and, no, the winner isn’t Jordan Spieth (to be fair, his hair is much better than mine). It’s always England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who has golf’s best rock-star locks. Fleetwood likely was thrilled to be near the top of the leaderboard for a while, but he likely wasn’t thrilled by his second-round finish: four bogeys on the last seven holes to shoot 71 and slip back to 10th. He also may not be thrilled by the fact that he’s chasing Koepka again, probably futilely again, just like last year’s U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills. Nobody likes to watch reruns.

Best Showing by a Player Whose Name Is So Long It Barely Fits in a Tweet: Congratulations, Jazz Janewattananond. He’s 23, from Bangkok, Thailand, and has won three times on the Asian Tour. Don’t look now, but he’s in the top 10. He’s tied for 10th at 2-under 138, and he’s having a career week in his first major championship. By the way, he is 72nd in the Official World Golf Ranking, so he can play. Asked if enthusiastic New York fans tried to shout his name, he said, “They did, but it didn’t come out right.”

Best Jazz Quote: C’mon, you didn’t think I was going to try to spell his last name a second time, did you? Even spellcheck wants nothing to do with him. Here is more from our man Jazz, on what wowed him on his first sightseeing trip to Manhattan this week: “The people. And the buildings. It’s like a country jungle.” Beautiful. Someone get him a glass slipper before it strikes midnight, please.

Best Motorized Cart Driving: The winner is the only nominee, John Daly. The senior golfer, who was eligible to play in the PGA Championship as a past champion, received a cart to ride around the Black Course under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He shot 75-76, missed the cut, exchanged high-fives with fans as he swerved past and said he “felt an obligation” to play because he was eligible.

Biggest Waste of a Perfectly Good Cart: See above.

Most Surprising Flashback: Your 2002 PGA champ, Rich Beem, rarely plays tournament golf, but the part-time golf broadcaster still can get hot. Paired with fellow past champs Daly and Y.E. Yang, Beemer (as he is known) birdied five of the last six holes in Friday’s second round, posted 30 on the back nine and made the cut at 4 over. How’d the 48-year-old do it? He led the field in fairways hit Friday, finding 12 of 14.

Biggest Missed Historical Moment: It would’ve been ironic if Koepka’s opening 63, which set a Bethpage Black course record and tied for the lowest score in PGA history, had lasted only 24 hours. Adam Scott was 7 under with four holes to go and needed only one more birdie to post the first 62 in an American major. (Branden Grace shot 62 in the 2017 British Open.) Unfortunately for Scott, he three-putted the 17th hole for bogey, missing a 2-footer, to derail the 62.

Scott conceded that he had a fleeting thought of reaching that score as he left the 15th green. “You know, 16, 17 and 18 were very gettable today, especially with the tee up on 17,” Scott said. “It didn’t happen. Look, you shoot 64 in a major, you’ve had a great day, and I did today.”

Imagine if the mighty Black Course had kicked off the PGA with a 63, then a 62, and a leader who was double digits under par by his 22nd hole. Officials may have had to remove that famed “Warning” sign from the first tee.

Greatest Prediction We’ll Forget in Five Years: Keegan Bradley, a native New Englander and the 2011 PGA champion, finished 36 holes at even par and would still be in contention at this PGA if not for that one guy who’s been The Extinguisher. Bradley said he loved the “awesome” vocal enthusiasm of the Long Island gallery this week, and he’s looking forward to the 2024 Ryder Cup, which will be played at Bethpage Black. “That’s going to be one of the wildest atmospheres in our sport,” Bradley said. “Or any sport!”

Best Display of Mortality: The winner is Koepka, who made his first bogey of the tournament on his 28th hole after he missed the fairway at the tough par-4 10th hole.

Best Next Tiger Woods Performance: Koepka, obviously. Even Woods, who missed the cut, thought so. “What Brooksy did, he’s driving it 330 yards in the middle of the fairway,” Woods said. “He’s got 9-irons when most of us are hitting 5-iron, 4-irons, and he’s putting well. That adds up to a pretty substantial lead… Relative to the field, I was about that long early in my career.”

Smartest Reason to Hole a Birdie Putt on the Final Hole: Sweden’s Henrik Stenson did just that to shoot a nice 68 and move up to 2 over par. The importance of that last putt? “I think that gives me at least another hour in bed,” he said. “That’s always nice.”

Best Third-Round Golf Decision: Stenson again, asked if he would make any changes for the weekend: “I’m still keeping 14 clubs.”

Best False Optimism: Somebody had to put the quest to catch Koepka, who by reputation is a good front-runner, into perspective. The winner is Adam Scott. “Well, that good front-running has to come to an end eventually,” Scott said, laughing. “Let’s hope it doesn’t last 12 years like Tiger’s.”

Best Explanation of a 41: It didn’t go well early for Danny Lee, who shot a stellar opening-round 64. Lee teed off on the back nine Friday and had two bogeys, two double bogeys and no birdies on that side. He rallied on the front to shoot 74. What happened? Said Lee: “It felt like every single hole on the back nine was freaking hard.”

Best Go-To PGA Quotemeister: So far, it’s New Zealand’s Lee, who manages to be humorous in a second language: English. As a native of South Korea, he also speaks Korean. After his first round, Lee talked about life on the PGA Tour not always being “fairytales and unicorns.” He also accidentally reversed a cliché that made it better because we all knew what he meant. “I’m grateful to be out here,” he said, “but it’s not taking baby from candy out here.”

So far for Brooks Koepka, though, this PGA has been easier than taking baby from a candy.

Best Half-Vast PGA Awards Column: No, no, really, I couldn’t possibly accept. No, really. Well, if you insist…

Gary Van Sickle has covered golf since 1980 for Sports Illustrated and Golf.com, Golf World and The Milwaukee Journal. Email: gvansick@aol.com; Twitter: @GaryVanSickle


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