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Asian Jazz surprises field, Brooks maintains seven-shot lead despite even-par 70

Joy Chakravarty

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Dubai: Even on a day when he did not have his A game out there, Brooks Koepka was smashing records and continuing his imperious march towards successfully defending his PGA Championship title.

The thing is, the American has been such a standout competitor at Bethpage State Park’s demanding Black course that only the bravest would bet against him not becoming the first player to hold back-to-back titles in two Major championships come Sunday evening.

Koepka, also winner of successive U.S. Open titles over the last two years, finally faltered—by his own high standards—and could ‘only’ make three birdies against three bogeys in Saturday’s third round. But a round of even-par 70—on a day when the rising temperature baked the greens and the scoring average had soared to 72.354—was enough to take him to 12-under 198 and help maintain his seven-shot lead over his closest rivals.

An advantage of seven shots going into the final round has proved insurmountable in the history of Major championships, and even on the PGA Tour.

The ignominious record of biggest lead lost in Majors is six shots, held by Australia’s Greg Norman during the 1996 Masters, when he collapsed and surrendered a sure win to Nick Faldo. Scotland’s Paul Lawrie did come from 10 shots behind Jean van de Velde to win the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, but the Frenchman’s lead on the final day was five shots over the second-placed Justin Leonard and Craig Parry.

Four players were tied second at five-under par, a group that included his close friend and reigning World No. 1 Dustin Johnson (69), and the surprise package of the tournament, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond (67).

Matt Wallace (70), the 2018 Hero Indian Open champion, was tied for the sixth place at four-under par 136 alongside Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama (68).

Koepka started brilliantly as usual, making full use of the easier opening stretch of holes and reaching 14-under par with birdies on the second and fifth holes.

However, his par putt from two feet on the ninth hole horse-shoed out and an errant drive to the right rough on the 10th cost him back-to-back bogeys. He had another three-putt bogey on the par-4 16th hole, which came after a birdie on the par-5 13th.

The slight wobble may have raised the hopes of some in the field, but the 29-year-old World No. 3 was under no doubt that he’d be lifting the massive Wanamaker Trophy once again on Sunday evening.

With a seven-shot lead going into the final round, Brooks Koepka of USA is set to defend his PGA Championship title at Bethpage Black on Sunday.  Photo: European Tour/Getty Images

“No. I feel confident. I feel good. I feel excited,” said Koepka after the round.

“I was excited just to get to the course today, and then try to build that lead, but that didn’t happen. It’s a tough day and it would have been really hard to shoot 4- or 5-under. Any time the wind’s going to be blowing 15 at Bethpage Black, you’re in for a real test.

“I feel confident going into tomorrow. I don’t know what the forecast is. But if I can hit a few fairways, there’s really a couple key holes out here, you know, you play the seventh well, play 10 and 12 well, and then from there, you just hit the centre of the greens and try to par this place to death.

“I’m definitely not going to let up; I promise you that. I’m just trying to hit the best possible shot I can at the time. I’d love to force it on the field where I can make it as big as a lead as I possibly can get. It would be nice to be able to make a 10 on the last hole and be okay. But I’m just playing to play good golf, and wherever that puts me. I’ll be satisfied if I just go play one more good round.”

Johnson, who could lose his World No. 1 ranking to Koepka, was still hoping to be able to beat the runaway leader.

“I’m going to need some help from him, and then I’m going to have to play very, very well,” he said.

“I felt like I played well today. Just made too many bogeys. It wasn’t one thing or the other. Wind got me a couple times. You know, hit some drives that I thought should have ended up better than they did. It seemed like every time I got just a little bit out of position, I made bogey.

“There’s really nothing you can do on this golf course to change your approach. If I drive it in the fairway, I feel like there’s no hole I can’t attack because you can control the golf ball. The greens are fairly receptive.

“I got a lot of confidence in the irons and I’m driving it well, too. I just need to limit those misses.”

While beating Koepka may prove too ambitious for Janewattananond, a top-four finish gets him into the Masters and a top-12 would earn an invite back to the PGA Championship next year.

The 23-year-old Thai was cheered all the way by the New York fans as he moved to four-under par after 13 bogey-free holes, but dropped shots on the 14th and 17th before getting one back on the final hole.

“People keep shouting ‘love you.’ They love me here,” said Janewattananond, who is placed second in the Asian Tour Order of Merit right now.

“I love it. My first time ever getting a crowd like this, shouting my name. I don’t know how to react to it. This is my first time for the shouting. They give me some really funny names.

“I arrived here on Monday, it was raining. Tuesday was raining. The course was playing so tough because the rough was so long and the ball wasn’t going anywhere. I was having a nightmare. How am I going to play this golf course? I was thinking I’m not going to break 80. This has exceeded my expectation already.”

Jordan Spieth, bidding to become only the sixth player in the history of the game to complete a career grand slam with a win on Sunday, fell back to tied eighth place at three-under par 207 following a round of two-over 72.

LEADING SCORES (After Round Three, par-70 course)

198 – Brooks Koepka (USA) 63-65-70

205 – Jazz Janewattananond (Thailand) 70-68-67, Dustin Johnson (USA) 69-67-69, Luke List (USA) 68-68-69, Harold Varner III (USA) 71-67-67

206 – Hideki Matsuyama (Japan) 70-68-68, Matt Wallace (England) 69-67-70

207 – Patrick Cantlay (USA) 69-70-68, Xander Schauffele (USA) 70-69-68, Adam Scott (Australia) 71-64-72, Jordan Spieth (USA) 69-66-72

208 – Sung Kang (Korea Republic) 68-70-70, Erik Van Rooyen (South Africa) 70-68-70

209 – Rickie Fowler (USA) 69-69-71, Danny Lee (New Zealand) 64-74-71

210 – Lucas Bjerregaard (Denmark) 71-69-70, Tommy Fleetwood (England) 67-71-72, Lucas Glover (USA) 72-69-69, Chez Reavie (USA) 68-71-71, Justin Rose (England) 70-67-73, Danny Willett (England) 71-70-69.

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Chinese Taipei’s Pan secures historic Presidents Cup ticket

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C.T. Pan became the first golfer from Chinese Taipei to be selected for the prestigious Presidents Cup to be held at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club this December. Photo: PGA Tour/Getty Images

Medinah, Illinois: C.T. Pan wrote a small slice of golfing history after becoming the first golfer from Chinese Taipei to qualify for the Presidents Cup as his PGA Tour FedExCup Playoffs campaign ended at the BMW Championship on Sunday.

The 27-year-old, who enjoyed a maiden PGA Tour win at the RBC Heritage in April, finished T31 after ending the week with a level par 72 at Medinah Country Club’s No. 3 Course. He needed to finish 12th or better to advance into the final week of the season where the FedExCup champion will bag US $15 million.

However, Pan safely earned his place amongst the top-8 players for the International Team to face the United States Team at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia this December when qualifying ended on Sunday.

“Yeah, it’s great. I mean obviously I didn’t play well the last couple weeks. I played okay, mediocre but to be able to lock-down this spot (for the Presidents Cup), that means a lot to me. It means I can make sure and plan my schedule to get ready for the Presidents Cup,” he said.

Apart from his breakthrough victory, Pan enjoyed six top-25s to end the season in 37th place  on the FedExCup points list. He was determined to make it to the Tour Championship after also missing out on the top-30 spots by a few rungs last season.

“It’s been great year, I would say. I won, achieved my dream to win a PGA Tour event and played well and got a spot on the Presidents Cup team. That means a lot to me. It’s very special year for me. But, you know, looking at my stats and my goals, I still have things I need to work on. I want to make sure I get better every day,” said Pan.

He will take a short break and start planning his schedule for the new 2019-20  PGA Tour Season which begins in September. He said he would take into consideration the Presidents Cup and ensure he is battle-ready to help the International Team wrest the trophy from the United States team.

“I was deciding whether to come back to the U.S. after the three events in Asia to get ready here in U.S. Now, with the Presidents Cup in Melbourne, I kind of want to stay in the same time zone, make sure my body will adjust to it,” said Pan.

“It will be wild. We will have a lot of fans to cheer for us, I’m sure. My family for sure, friends, too.”

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Rookie Gauri Karhade wins maiden pro title in sixth attempt

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Gauri Karhade in action during final round

Hyderabad: Rookie Gauri Karhade playing only her sixth event as a pro on the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour, stunned the front runners, amateur Shreya Pal, and the seasoned Gaurika Bishnoi, to land her first title on the circuit. She stayed calm and held her nerve to shoot a final round of 73 for a total of two-under 214 and win the 12th Leg by one shot over Gaurika Bishnoi (75) and Afshan Fatima (70).

Afshan Fatima, who made a great charge on the front nine with a two-under 34, held the lead midway through the back nine but dropped crucial back-to-back bogeys on 15th and 16th to fall into a tie for second with Gaurika at one-under 215.

Playing the final group, overnight leader, Shreya Pal began with a flourish on the first with a birdie. But she dropped three bogeys in the next four holes. Gauri, starting the final day two behind leader Shreya and one behind Gaurika, was steady and she parred the first five holes, as Gaurika also dropped a shot on second.

Then it was Gauri’s turn to make a mistake with a double bogey on sixth, but Gaurika dropped a bogey on seventh and Shreya dropped a double bogey. That opened the door for Gauri. Meanwhile, Afshan was making a charge with three birdies against one bogey on the front nine.

After nine holes, it was still a very tight battle. Gaurika, who was four-under for two rounds, was still two-under after 45 holes. Four players, Shreya, Afshan, Gauri and Ananya Datar were at one-under after the front nine.

On the back nine, Gauri and Afshan found birdies on 11th and Gaurika bogeyed to let Gauri and Afshan move into the lead with the two-shot swing. Gauri dropped a shot on 12th to fall back and Afshan was sole leader.

Gauri and Afshan both birdied the 14th at which stage Afshan was ahead at three-under and Gauri was two-under. Gaurika stayed at one-under. Shreya, now five-over for the day after a bogey on 12th, fell back to even par.

Then it was Afshan’s turn to make mistakes and she made two in a row on 15th and 16th that allowed Gauri to sneak ahead. She only had to stay calm and get her pars. She did just that. None of the three, including Gaurika, made birdies on the last two holes, leaving Gauri as the victor.

Gaurika, unable to find birdies the whole day, ended Tied-second with Afshan, who after a great 14 holes made crucial errors to throw away a chance.

Gauri, who started playing at the age of 10 and learnt her early lessons in Thane and Kharghar, has honed her skills at the Poona Golf Club and now resides in Mumbai.

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Korn Ferry finals: Ace golfer Anirban Lahiri gets positive start

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Lahiri had a rough start as he started from 10th and bogeyed 11th and 14th to go two-over.

Columbus: Indian ace golfer Anirban Lahiri started his campaign on a positive note, he shot four-under 67 to be placed at tied-fifth in the first round of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship here. The tournament is the first one in the series of three-event Korn Ferry finals.

The 32-year-old PGA Tour golfer was down by two strokes when he began his round with bogeys at the 11th and 14th holes. But the resilient Indian fought back with six birdies, including back to back birdies to finish the round. He had five birdies in a brilliant second nine, after starting the day at the 10th tee.

“I got off to a bad start but played good as things went on. I dropped a shot on 11th and then hit a bad drive but I started getting more comfortable later on. The greens were slower than what I have played in recent months. But then I was getting more comfortable with the surfaces as things went on,” Lahiri said.

Conversely, another Indian contender Shubhankar Sharma conceded a double bogey on the first hole and battled his way to a 75 that left him outside the top 100.

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