News & Opinion

Brooks Koepka escapes ‘dark places’ to win Phoenix Open

Brooks Koepka wins 2021 Waste Management Phoenix Open
Brooks Koepka gets his hands on a PGA Tour trophy for the first time since July 2019 as he erases a 5-stroke deficit Sunday to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

After struggling for months to return from an injured left knee, Koepka erases 5-shot deficit to claim 1st title since mid-2019

Brooks Koepka conceded that he had been in some “dark places” recently, but he never gave up hope that he would return from injury and win again on the PGA Tour.

On Sunday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, Koepka erased a five-stroke deficit to start the final round, sparked by a pitch-in eagle at the par-5 17th at TPC Scottsdale, to win his eighth PGA Tour victory. He shot 6-under 65 for a 19-under 265 total, one stroke better than fellow American Xander Schauffele and South Korea’s Kyoung-Hoon Lee (scores).

Koepka, 30, a four-time major champion and former No. 1-ranked player in the world, had undergone multiple stem-cell treatments to strengthen a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee. He hadn’t won since the July 28, 2019, at the FedEx St. Jude Invitational.

“There was a period maybe for about two months where I just questioned whether I was ever going to be the same, whether I was even going to be somewhat remotely the same golfer that I ever was,” Koepka said. “My knee, no matter how much work and pain I was doing with Derek [Samuel], my trainer, it just felt like it wasn't progressing. And that's the frustrating part, when you feel like it's not going anywhere.

“But we stuck with it. Those dark places, a lot of tears, questioning yourself, and in dark places mentally. You've got to come out of that.

“I'll tell you what, it takes a lot of effort just to get out of those places.”

Koepka had entered the Phoenix Open after having missed three consecutive carts, a career first, with no score better than 71 in that stretch. Though he had slid to No. 13 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he said his form had been better than the results.

“I felt like I had been playing really well,” he said. “I loved the way I was playing, even though I was missing cuts.

“Today, I played patient and just hung around and waited my turn.”

Koepka earned $1.314 million from the $7.3 million purse.

Koepka started the final round five strokes behind co-leaders Schauffele and Jordan Spieth, and didn’t help his cause with a bogey on the second hole. Koepka quickly picked up a couple of strokes when he sank a 24-foot eagle putt at the par-5 third hole but then made nine consecutive pars. He sank short birdie putts at Nos. 13-15 that brought him into contention while the leaders were struggling behind him. Koepka surged into a two-stroke lead when he holed a 33-yard pitch at the par-4 17th.

With 5,000 spectators admitted per day under COVID-19 restrictions, the Phoenix Open represented the first PGA Tour event since early 2020 with more than 2,000 fans in attendance. Koepka, for one, was happy to have spectators around.

“I haven't been in contention in God knows how long, so to actually hit golf shots like I'm accustomed to seeing when the pressure is on, it's a good feeling,” said Koepka, who won his first Tour title, the 2015 Phoenix Open, at TPC Scottsdale. “I miss that pressure. I miss the atmosphere, the fans. I mean, my best results come with fans, so I'm excited to have them back.”

Schauffele struggled to an even-par 71 and a co-runner-up with South Korea’s Kyoung-Hoon Lee at 18-under 266. Spieth, who hasn't won since the 2017 British Open, faded with a 1-over 72 and a share of fourth place.

Steve Stricker, who will turn 54 on Feb. 23, was trying to beat Sam Snead’s record as the oldest player to win on the PGA Tour. Stricker, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, hit all 18 greens in regulation in the final round to shoot 4-under 67 and tie for fourth with Spieth and Mexico’s Carlos Ortiz at 17-under 267, two strokes behind Koepka.

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