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Jupiter’s Brooks Koepka keeps his promise and wins the PGA Championship

PITTSFORD, NY — Brooks Koepka vowed it would not happen again. Promised the mindset that led to relinquishing a two-shot lead in the final round of the Masters was dead and buried. Perhaps even on those hallowed Augusta National grounds.

So when he awoke Sunday with a one-shot lead at the PGA Championship, his mind was clear and the man Jon Rahm said “smells blood” when he’s in contention at a major returned.

And that was bad news for Viktor Hovland and Jupiter’s Corey Conners and even Scottie Scheffler. Hovland and Conners started one shot behind Koepka and both eventually faded, Hovland not until a double bogey at No. 16.

Scheffler started four back and got within one, but never closer.

That meant Koepka’s climb up the steep hill that leads to the 18th green was far more stress free than the LIV golfer has felt in quite a long time. The Jupiter resident led by four shots after his birdie on No. 16. And with a two-shot advantage as he stepped onto the 18th tee, it was no longer in doubt.

Brooks Koepka celebrates on the 18th green after winning the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York on May 21, 2023.

Koepka’s 67 – he came within an inch of a third-consecutive 66 – ended with a loss to secure his fifth major, and third PGA Championship title. That was followed by several fist pumps and a long embrace with his caddy, Ricky Elliott. He finally got around to retrieving the ball and tossed it into the crowd, perhaps finally relinquishing the demons he has carried since blowing that two-shot lead on the final round last month at the Masters.

“I knew what I did in Augusta,” he said. “I spent the whole night thinking about it. I knew what I did and I knew I was never going to come out and think that way again. Didn’t do that.

“I felt in control all day.”

Koepka would not reveal what it was he learned exactly about himself from the Masters but did say, “I’ve always learned more from the four times I finished second (in a major) than the five times I’ve won now. Failure is how you learn.”

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Now, that Hall of Fame career is back on track.

And forget those world rankings that say Koepka is No. 44, forget the narrative that goes along with those who left the PGA Tour for LIV Golf. At this moment, Koepka is the best golfer in the world.

Koepka, 33, joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only golfers to win three PGA Championship titles in the stroke-play era and becomes one of 20 golfers to win at least five majors. Only Woods (15) and Phil Mickelson (six) have more majors among active golfers.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “To be with those groups of names is absolutely incredible, something I’ll be honest never dreamed of as a kid to win that many.”

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But this one may be as special as any considering just a year ago Koepka was wondering if he could even compete with the best in his sport. A series of injuries, including a very complicated surgery after dislocating his kneecap and damaging ligaments, had Koepka in a place we had never seen him, one with self doubts.

“I think this one is probably the most meaningful of them all,” he said. “This one definitely is a lot sweeter. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this one.”

Now, Koepka appears to be on the verge of another run like he had from 2017-19. During that span, he played in 10 majors, winning four, finishing second twice and adding a fourth and a sixth. He now has 18 top 10s in majors.

The first sign that his majors mojo was back came in the Masters. But while he was eventually able to appreciate that runner-up finish, it took awhile considering he entered the final round with a two-shot lead and finished four shots behind Rahm.

Koepka was certain that would not happen again.

He was right.

Koepka appeared far more relaxed than he was during the tense final round at Augusta. And that wasn’t easy Sunday with an up and down round of seven birdies and four bogeys. He was able to let go of bad shots, something that was his downfall at Augusta.

After a bogey on No. 11 cut his lead back to one, television cameras caught him smiling as he walked down the fairway at No 12 after his tee shot.

Hovland’s double-bogey on 16 sealed Koepka’s win

This was still in doubt entering No. 16. Hovland was one back when his tee shot landed in the bunker. That was as close as he’d come after drilling his second shot into the face of the hill surrounding the bunker. His double bogey essentially secured Koepka’s title.

“Pretty unfortunate on 16,” Hovland said. “It still doesn’t feel like I gave it away. Brooks played awesome golf, hit a lot of putts, and he deserved to win.”

Koepka got on a birdie train to start the round with three straight at Nos. 2, 3, and 4, thanks to his iron game, stretching his lead to three shots. Koepka stuck three straight approach/tee shots inside 10 feet.

But just a quickly, the momentum was gone with consecutive bogies on 6 and 7. Koepka sliced ​​his drive out of bounds and had to take a penalty stroke on No. 6, the toughest hole on the course. The bogey cut his lead to one. He followed with another bogey on No. 7.

The back nine was a little better, thanks to his putter. Birdies on 12, 14 and 16 allowed him to get back to a spot we were used to seeing him.

This article originally appeared on the Palm Beach Post: Brooks Koepka promised what happened at the Masters would not happen at the PGA Championship.

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