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Bethpage buster: Brooks’ birdie blitz brightens ‘Black’ course

Joy Chakravarty

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American Brooks Koepka shot 65 to take a huge seven-stroke lead after the second round of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black late on Friday. Photo: European Tour/Getty Images

Koepka cards five-under 65 to build massive seven-stroke lead at the halfway stage of the PGA Championship; Major winners Adam Scott, Jordan Spieth try to keep pace

Dubai: Brooks Koepka was turning the PGA Championship into a romp as the well-built American muscled his way to a record-breaking lead at the halfway stage of the second Major championship of the season.

On a demanding Bethpage Black course, where par came at a premium for most players in the field, Koepka was a birdie-making machine as he opened up a yawning seven-shot gap on his closest rivals. After his 63 was the best round on Thursday, the 29-year-old added a five-under par 65, which was just one less than the best round on Friday (64 by Australian Adam Scott).

The defending champion, also winner of back-to-back US Open titles over the last two years, reached 12-under par 128 after 36 holes, with American Jordan Spieth (66) and Scott (64) tied for second at five-under 135.

The seven-shot lead at this stage of the tournament was a PGA Championship record and also the largest at the halfway point of any Major since Henry Cotton led by nine in the 1934 Open Championship. His 12-under was two better than the 36-hole aggregate record in all Majors.

The largest margin of victory in a Major championship is 15 shots at the 2000 US Open by Tiger Woods, who had a ring-side view to Koepka’s masterclass as his playing partner, but will be out of action over the weekend after missing the cut following a second-round 73.

Dustin Johnson (67) and the 2018 Hero Indian Open champion Matt Wallace (67) were among a group of players tied for the fourth place at four-under 136.

Asian Tour member and Order of Merit leader Jazz Janewattananond (68) was the best-placed among the Asian players alongside Korean Sung Kang (70), winner last week at the AT&T Byron Nelson Classic on the PGA Tour. The duo was tied 10th at two-under par.

Koepka started his round with back-to-back birdies and reached 10-under par on the par-5 fourth hole when he failed to make a 17-feet eagle putt. There was a bit of a stutter thereafter when he made his first bogey of the tournament on the 10th hole and then three-putted for another on the 17th. But he also picked up shots on the 13th, 15th, 16th and 18th for his 65.

After Thursday’s round of 63, Koepka had said there was still room for improvement, and he called his 65 a ‘battle’. Imagine what would he do if he has two perfect days during the weekend.

“Today was a battle. I did not hit it very well today, I was fighting a bit of a block. I was able to find a couple of fairways and when I did miss, I was in a great lie. I’m still putting really well which is big,” said the World No. 3.

“I feel good, especially the way I battled today, to not have it and get that score I am very proud of myself. I fought hard, I feel great and just need to continue on the weekend.

“Yeah, I’d like to see that lead grow as large as it possibly can. I still have to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do. Keep putting the ball in the right spots and make sure that you don’t make any double bogeys, and I should have a good chance of winning the championship.”

Woods, who won the Masters last month with Koepka finishing second, was all praise for his playing partner after missing the cut by one shot.

“I made too many mistakes and just didn’t do the little things I need to do. I had a couple three-putts. I didn’t hit wedges close and I didn’t hit any fairways,” said the 43-year-old.

“What Brooksy did, he’s driving it 330 yards in the middle of the fairway. He’s got 9-irons when most of us are hitting 5-irons, 4-irons, and he’s putting well. That adds up to a pretty substantial lead, and if he keeps doing what he’s doing, there’s no reason why he can’t build on this lead.”

Spieth, winless since the 2017 Open Championship and without a top-10 since the 2018 Open Championship, could become the sixth player in the history of the game to complete a career Grand Slam with a win on Sunday.

But the American, who has dropped to No. 39 in the world ranking, insisted he wasn’t thinking about the career Grand Slam.

“It certainly hasn’t. I can’t imagine it will because I haven’t been in contention on a Sunday since The Open last year,” said Spieth after a round that included six birdies and two bogeys.

“If I’m able to put some good work in tomorrow, then I will be in contention on Sunday and at that point it will be just more (thinking) of trying to win a golf tournament. It won’t matter to me what tournament it is.

“I’ll be pleased to be in contention, knowing that the work I put in from being pretty far off has really come back nicely on a very difficult golf course. I imagine that will take pretty much most of my thoughts, but we’ll see. I’m not sure what to expect.”

After his round of 64, which included a late bogey on the par-3 17th hole, Scott felt there was still a chance of catching up with Koepka.

“I think there’s doubles left and right out there once you get out of position. Hey, if the guy (Koepka) can just keep doing that for another two days, then there’s not much you can do,” said the former Masters champion.

“But I think someone, hopefully me, will chip away tomorrow and sneak up in the right direction. If he didn’t have a hot day tomorrow, the gap narrows and there’s pressure over whatever lead he might have or might not on Sunday.

“Yeah, I know he’s won three Majors. I know he seems impenetrable at the moment in this position, but at some point he’s got to think about it.”

The 23-year-old Janewattananond was clearly enjoying his experience.

“I am out here without expectations. So even if I shoot 90 tomorrow, I won’t mind it. You know, just being here is already good,” said the Thai star.

“My expectation was to come out here and have some fun and see what Majors are all about. It’s the first time on the East Coast. I am enjoying myself. I am really happy I put up a good score, so it exceeded my expectations for sure.”

Leading Scores (After Round Two, par-70 course)

128 – Brooks Koepka (USA) 63-65

135 – Adam Scott (Australia) 71-64, Jordan Spieth (USA) 69-66

136 – Kelly Kraft (USA) 71-65, Daniel Berger (USA) 70-66, Dustin Johnson (USA) 69-67, Matt Wallace (England) 69-67, Luke List (USA) 68-68

137 – Justin Rose (England) 70-67

138 – Harold Varner III (USA) 71-67, Jazz Janewattananond (Thailand) 70-68, Hideki Matsuyama (Japan) 70-68, Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) 70-68, Erik Van Rooyen (South Africa) 70-68, Rickie Fowler (USA) 69-69, Sung Kang (Korea Republic) 68-70, Tommy Fleetwood (England) 67-71, Danny Lee (New Zealand) 64-74

139 – Bronson Burgoon (USA) 73-66, Scott Piercy (USA) 72-67, Charles Howell III (USA) 72-67, Xander Schauffele (USA) 70-69, Patrick Cantlay (USA) 69-70, Mike Lorenzo-Vera (France) 68-71, Chez Reavie (USA) 68-71

140 – Matt Fitzpatrick (England) 74-65, Francesco Molinari (Italy) 72-68, Lucas Bjerregaard (Sweden) 71-69, Tyrrell Hatton (England) 71-69, Zach Johnson (USA) 71-69, Gary Woodland (USA) 70-70, Keegan Bradley (USA) 70-70, Matt Kuchar (USA) 70-70, Jimmy Walker (USA) 70-70, Phil Mickelson (USA) 69-71.

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Tiger, Rory lead storylines to watch out for at Pebble Beach

Joy Chakravarty

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Former World No. 1 Tiger Woods returns to the venue of his iconic U.S. Open victory in 2000 following his 15th Major triumph at The Masters recently.

Dubai: Finally, the U.S. Open, almost always in the spotlight because of wrong reasons over the last few years, looks set to be remembered as a proper golf contest.

The United States Golf Association (USGA), which conducts the championship, have taken great pride in their objective of providing the toughest test of golf at the U.S. Open, but have often went overboard in tricking up the golf courses.

In their zealous pursuit, the USGA has let playing conditions get out of hand several times in the past. In the 2004 edition at Shinnecock Hills, the seventh hole became so hard and fast, it had to be watered in between groups. In 2015 at Chambers Bay, the greens were so bad that Henrik Stenson referred to them as ‘broccoli’. 2016 was the year of the Dustin Johnson rules fiasco. And in 2018, there was the unforgettable sight of a frustrated Phil Mickelson running after his putt and hitting his next while the ball was still in motion during the third round.

Those who have already reached the stunning golf course in Monterey County have praised the way it has been set up for this week. India’s Anirban Lahiri, who qualified for the tournament after finishing second in the Sectionals last week at Columbus, quipped: “Doesn’t feel like the US Open! There is nothing to complain about the golf course this year!”

Now that the course is not the centre of attention, let’s focus on the tournament. And it promises to be a cracker with several compelling storylines. Let’s have a look…

Tiger returns to a venue he blitzed in 2000

No talk of a Major tournament these days is complete without Tiger Woods. The 15-time Major champion will be looking for his 16th at Pebble Beach, the place where he set the record books on fire en route to his 2000 triumph.

That year, Woods won by 15 shots! It kickstarted the ‘Tiger Slam’, when he had possession of all four Major titles, winning the Open Championship and PGA Championship in 2000 and the Masters in 2001. He started the week with a 65 and ended with a Sunday 67 for a 12-under par total, virtually lapping the field. Second-placed Ernie Els and Miguel Angel Jimenez were at three-over.

However, that was 19 years ago. Woods did win the Masters earlier this year, but he also missed the cut at the PGA Championship last month. He grew up in the area, so is used to the tricky poa annua greens. And his immaculate control over his iron shots will be a huge factor at Pebble.

Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy

McIlroy heads to Pebble in sizzling form

There was some concern about Rory McIlroy when he missed the cut at The Memorial after two fairly average outings at Majors – T21 at the Masters and T8 at the PGA Championship. This, despite the fact that he has a whopping nine top-10s in 11 starts, including a win at the Players Championship.

Any such talks were consigned to the trash bin after a most spectacular victory last week at the RBC Canadian Open, where he shot rounds of 64 and 61 over the weekend to romp home by seven shots.

There is just one issue though. Pebble Beach is not a golf course which can be dominated with the driver, which really has been McIlroy’s most lethal weapon. Will that change his gameplan, or are we in for yet another masterclass of aggressive golf from him?

Brooks Koepka

Koepka goes for a repeat and three-peat

It’s not beyond the realms of imagination, at least not with Brooks Koepka and the kind of form he is in. If Koepka wins on Sunday, it will be his fifth Major title, a third straight US Open and a second straight Major after winning the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black last month.

For the record, no golfer has ever won the US Open three times in a row in modern era (Willie Anderson won in 1903, ’04 and ’05).

Can Koepka do it? Form and his confidence level would suggest so. And then there is also the fact that he was so good getting out of the thick roughs at Bethpage Black. Brawn and brain is always a terrific combination.

Mickelson and his quest for Slam

Every US Open, and not without reason, Phil Mickelson seems to be one of the most engaging stories. The five-time Major champion needs just that one title to complete a career Grand Slam.

Mickelson has finished runner-up six times in the tournament, held every week during his birthday. It’s on Sunday this time, so there really could not be a better gift for himself than the U.S. Open trophy.

No player has won a Major aged 49 (Julius Boros was the oldest, winning the 1968 PGA Championship at 48 years, four months and 18 days), but then Mickelson seems ageless. He actually won at Pebble Beach earlier this year (AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), and that should count for something.

The resurgence of Spieth

It will remain one of golf’s greatest modern-day mysteries that Jordan Spieth, the man who could do no wrong not too long ago, went without a top-10 finish for 43 weeks after the 2018 Open Championship (where he was tied ninth).

The American has the most sublime touch on the greens, but started struggling with the flat club, and that put some pressure on his long game as well.

However, a tied third place at the PGA Championship saw him returning to form with the putter and he has had two further top-10s in two starts after that. This could be the week where everything comes together for Spieth and a fourth Major title is not a wild thought.

Johnson’s chance to get even at Pebble

Dustin Johnson arrived at Pebble Beach as a precocious 26-year-old during the 2010 U.S. Open. He had won the AT&T Pebble Beach twice (2009 and ’10) and was being looked upon as one of the favourites.

DJ did not disappoint, racing to a three-shot lead after the third round at six-under par. But in his quest for a first Major, he collapsed on the final day. An early triple and a double bogey took him out of contention and he wound up with an 82.

Nine years later, he has a chance to get even. Johnson, who severed ties with coach Claude Harmon III after the PGA Championship, knows how to handle the golf course and is in good form. The other motivation is reclaiming his world No1 ranking from Koepka.

Anirban ready to break US Open hoodoo

This is Anirban Lahiri’s third appearance at the U.S. Open—his first two being disappointing missed cuts. The Indian ace, who turns 32 later this month, hasn’t had a good year, but is showing signs of regaining his form of late.

Not only will a good finish in the U.S. Open look good on his resume, he also needs it given his tenuous position in the FedEx Cup. The other issue he’d be facing is that this is his first visit to Pebble Beach, having never played a PGA Tour event there before.

But Lahiri’s irons are becoming hot, and they will be critical on the iconic course which is well known for the small size of its greens.

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Gaurika finds her winning touch at Clover Greens

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New Delhi: Gaurika Bishnoi overcame a four-stroke deficit at the start of the final round to register her second win of the season on the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour, a media release stated. Gaurika fired three birdies in the last five holes to surpass overnight leader Gursimar Badwal.

Gaurika’s 67 saw her total eight-under 208, which was three clear of amateur Pranavi Urs, who registered the second 66 of the tournament. Pranavi, who began the week with a 76, recovered well over the final two days with 69-66 for a fine performance.
Gursimar played well on the first two days but had just one birdie on the final day. Badwal had two bogeys, but a triple bogey eight on the Par-5 14th put her out of contention. She finished in a tie for third alongside Amandeep Drall (70) and Tvesa Malik (68).

Ridhima Dilawari, seemed out of sorts in the first two rounds when she shot 73-74, but finally she found her form. However, the round of 68 helped her confidence for the upcoming events. She finished sixth at one-under 215, as six players finished the week with under-par totals, indicating a growing depth in Indian women’s golf.

There were two 66s and a 67 in the 15 under-par rounds in a week of impressive golf.

Gaurika receives the winner’s cheque from Clover Greens director G.R. Srinivasan.

Guarika birdied the second and dropped her only bogey of the day at fourth, after that she was flawless. Pranavi was also two-under for the front nine and was two-under till the 12thwith four birdies against two bogeys.

On the last five holes, she had a hat-trick of birdies from 14th to 16thand another on 18th for four-under 31 and a total of 66, the second time this score was recorded this week.

Amandeep had a rough front nine with bogeys on third and fourth, but four birdies on the back nine helped her card 70 and finish in a tie for third.

Gaurika and Amandeep, winner of the previous two events at Clover Greens, were the only players to play all three rounds under par. Astha Madan (72) was seventh at one-over 217, while amateur Asmitha Sathish (72) and Ananya Datar (72) were tied-eighth. Neha Tripathi (72) and Millie Saroha (75) were tied-10th.

With 29 golfers in fray, this was the largest field in a domestic WGAI event ever, carrying a record Rs. 10 lakh purse.

Gaurika also moved to the top of the Hero WPGT Order of Merit with two wins in six starts and total earnings of Rs. 6,12,800. She went past Neha Tripathi (Rs. 5,56,800) and Gursimar Badwal (Rs. 5,20,133). The fourth player with over Rs. 5 lakhs is Amandeep Drall (Rs. 5,11,333).

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Amandeep breaks into three-way lead with birdie hat-trick

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Hosur, Tamil Nadu: Amandeep Drall, who is still looking for her first win of the ongoing season, finished with a hat-trick of birdies to take a share of the lead in the opening round of the Rs.10 lakh seventh leg of the Hero Women’s Pro Golf Tour. Drall, who has a special relationship with the layout at the Clover Greens, won both the events staged at the venue last year.

Drall shared the lead with Gaurika Bishnoi and Gursimar Badwal, who have both won once each this season. The trio shot one-under 71 each to take a one stroke lead over Hero Order of Merit leader Neha Tripathi and Ananya Datar. Both Neha and Ananya carded even par 72 each.

In a field of 26 pros and three amateurs, the largest ever assembled at a domestic event on the Hero WPG Tour, four players including Riddhima Dilawari, the only multiple winner this year, Khushi Khanijau, Millie Saroha and Astha Madan shot one-over 73 each to be tied sixth. Tvesa Malik was sole 10th with a round of 74.

Gaurika Bishnoi

This was Amandeep’s sixth successive sub-par round at the Clover Greens. The last time she shot worse than sub-par was an even par 72 in the first round of the eighth leg of the 2018 Tour, which too she won. She added the 10th leg with three straight sub-par rounds.

Gursimar birdied the second, but bogeyed the Par-5 third and then parred the remaining holes except for the Par-4 13th, which she birdied for a round of 71. Gursimar won the second leg this year.

Gaurika Bishnoi, who won the fifth leg this season, opened with a birdie but dropped back-to-back bogeys on seventh and eight to turn in one-over 38. On the back nine, she birdied 12th and 14th to get to under-par and finish at 71.

Neha had just one birdie on seventh and she gave that back on 15th, while Ananya had three birdies and three bogeys.

Astha was two-under through 11 holes, before dropping thee shots in the last seven, while Riddhima birdied second and then dropped three bogeys in a span of four holes between eighth and 11th. She made up one with a birdie on Par-3 16th.

Tvesa at sole 10th birdied twice, but she had a double on the 11th and two more bogeys on 5th and 12th in her 74.

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