The cheers for Brooks Koepka’s US PGA Championship victory reverberated from Rochester to Riyadh. For the American, a fifth major title which places him alongside names such as Byron Nelson and Peter Thomson in golf’s pantheon of greats. He becomes only the 20th golfer in history to reach five. Arnold Palmer, who claimed seven, is within view. Koepka’s return from his darkest days, when it looked as if injury could curtail his career, is complete.
He cut an uncharacteristically emotional figure on the final green, doubtless reflecting on his earlier physical distress. Koepka said: “This is probably the sweetest one of them all because of all the hard work that went into this one. This one is definitely special.”
For LIV itself, there is validation that its much-maligned format does indeed have competitive merit. Perhaps Greg Norman can convince his Saudi Arabian paymasters that the LIV project is worthy of enhanced time and investment now that one of its players has seen off what is widely described as the strongest field in golf. Norman must be purring at Koepka’s success. Not so Jay Monahan and the PGA Tour; with Cameron Smith, the Open champion, now also a LIV golfer, the traditional ecosystem is minus two of four current major holders.
Zach Johnson, the US Ryder Cup captain, surely cannot ignore this particular LIV rebel now or the conversation around him. Team Europe would have cause to fear Koepka in Rome in September. His 67 meant the margin of victory was two, at nine under par, from Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler. The champion opened this tournament with a two-over-par 72.
Koepka’s mission was to prevent Oak Hill from turning into Choke Hill. He must have felt extra pressure, given the final-round collapse which denied him a win at the Masters last month. He started like a man on a mission, with birdies on three of the first four holes to afford himself a three-shot lead over Hovland.
When a procession looked likely, the golfing gods had other ideas. Koepka lost his ball from the tee at the sixth, triggering the first of two successive bogeys. Hovland pulled his playing partner level for a hole, the Norwegian also dropping a shot at the 7th. Birdies at the 10th and 12th for Koepka arrived either side of a pretty useful bogey at the short 11th. The Floridian’s tee shot had stuck in the face of a greenside bunker. By now, Scheffler had crept on to the scene with three birdies between the 10th and 14th. Koepka holed out impressively for par at the 13th to keep Hovland one adrift and Scheffler two back.
Hovland converted for a birdie at the 14th to tie Koepka again, but only for a matter of seconds. Nine under played eight under, with Scheffler running out of holes when minus six after 15. Disaster was to strike for Hovland at the 16th. After finding a fairway bunker from the tee, the 25-year-old cracked his second shot straight into the face of the sand trap. Clearly rattled, Hovland was to tap in for a double bogey six. Koepka’s birdie three meant he led by four at 10 under; game over.
Scheffler’s birdie at the last – his inward nine was of just 31 strokes – afforded him the runners-up spot alone until Hovland also closed out with a three. This felt a fair reflection of events given Hovland had traded blows with Koepka for so long. Kurt Kitayama, Bryson DeChambeau and Cam Davis shared fourth at three under.
When Rory McIlroy hit his approach to within two feet of the cup at the first, hopes were raised that the Northern Irishman could make a charge towards the leaders. He had started the day five adrift of Koepka. Bogeys at the 2nd, 4th and 7th undid more fine work by McIlroy on the front nine. The playing of that half in level-par 35 was never likely to be enough.
McIlroy picked up further shots at the 10th and 13th to edge inside the top five but had to settle for a share of seventh after a bogey on the 15th. He admitted thereafter that he had little expectation coming into the US PGA as he continues to battle technical flaws. He must change that scenario before next month’s US Open.
While glory belonged to Koepka, the most endearing moment of day four was delivered by Michael Block. The club professional, who is ranked outside the top 3,000 golfers in the world, had defied all logic not only by making the cut but maintaining a place on the leaderboard. Block had McIlroy for Sunday company.
Galleries exploded with delight at the par-three 15th as Block’s tee shot slammed straight into the hole. McIlroy was visibly delighted for his playing partner, whose disbelief was similarly plain. Block’s perfect seven iron, from 151 yards, will stay with anyone who witnessed it for ever. “It was an amazing golf shot,” said McIlroy.
McIlroy and Block were again in warm embrace on the 72nd green. Block’s tie for 15th will earn him close to $300,000 and surely further opportunity in elite environments.
Koepka’s LIV status is such that the $3.15m (£2.53m) cash prize for success at Oak Hill is basically irrelevant to him. Far more significant has proved to all doubters that he remains a true force.