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Host Fleetwood wins Hero Challenge

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English golfer and event host Tommy Fleetwood (left) receives the Hero Challenge trophy from Dr. Pawan Munjal, Chairman - Hero MotoCorp on Tuesday.

Liverpool: Tommy Fleetwood, the host this week, emerged victorious at the Hero Challenge late on Tuesday amonsgt a large number of fans lining up the waterside at the iconic Liverpool Waters Princess Dock.

Fleetwood playing his third Hero Challenge showed amazing consistency as he made sure that he was right on target with each of his shots from the customised tee to the floating green in the middle of the water to score with each of his 22 shots and won the title in the innovative event ahead of the British Masters beginning Thursday.

Dr. Pawan Munjal, Chairman, Hero MotoCorp, presented the trophy to Fleetwood.

The fast-paced event featured tournament host Fleetwood, fellow Englishman Matt Wallace, two-time Major champion Martin Kaymer, Ladies European Tour star Charley Hull, reigning Hero Indian Open champion Stephen Gallacher and Frenchman Alexander Levy, who won the inaugural  Hero Challenge in 2016.

Even though he found the target with each of his shots, Fleetwood at one point was one shot away from being eliminated by Charley Hull, the first woman to play the Hero Challenge.

Meanwhile, the Hero Challenge, was a high-scoring contest with players showing great ability to stop the ball on a floating target. Fleetwood totalled up a high 250 points in the final to beat Wallace, the Hero Indian Open winner in 2018.

“I’ve not done well in these before, so if I had to pick one to win it would definitely be this one,” said Fleetwood, who plays host at the British Masters this week.

“Charley really pushed me in that semifinal – I was one shot away from being out. She was relentless, I knew it was going to be hard work when she was disappointed that she only scored 25 points with her first shot… I didn’t miss the target once in 22 shots, so I’m really happy with that. It was great having the home support in the final too.”

In the earlier matches, Kaymer got the event going in the first round with Wallace and Fleetwood. The players had 90 seconds to hit a maximum of ten balls at a target with four rings worth five, ten, 25 and 50 points, and the player with the lowest score was eliminated.

Kaymer hit a bullseye with his third shot en route to scoring 65 points but he was soon eliminated as Wallace (230) and Fleetwood (160) were in terrific form. Wallace had three bullseyes while Fleetwood registered 160 as he scored with every shot.

In the other first round match, Gallacher, the reigning Hero Indian Open champion, scored 100 points from his last three shots but he hit his final shot after the hooter to total 105.

Levy scored 110 to progress and while Hull only hit eight balls in her 90 seconds, but that was enough with four 25s and a bullseye that hit the pin giving her 150 points.

In the semis, the players were gven six shots each, hitting alternately. Wallace applied early pressure with three 25s in his first four shots, beating Levy. The second semifinal was a classic, as Hull put the pressure on with a bullseye with her third ball but Fleetwood made one with his fourth. Hull aced her final ball and Fleetwood needing to do the same did just that.

In the all-English final against Wallace, Fleetwood won a hit to spare after 25-25-50-50-50 in his first five shots.

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Brooks defends back-to-back Major titles with PGA Championship

Joy Chakravarty

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Brooks Koepka poses with the Wanamaker Trophy after defending the PGA Championship title at Bethpage State Park, in USA, on Sunday. Photo: European Tour/Getty Images

Dubai: For more than three-and-a-half days, Brooks Koepka lorded over the Bethpage Black course with rare impunity. The famed public course, known as one of the most penal tracks in professional golf, finally bit back over the back nine on Sunday, transforming what seemed like a one-horse race at the PGA Championship into a thrilling climax.

Koepka managed to successfully defend his title, thus becoming the first golfer ever to hold two back-to-back Major titles, but not before surviving a mighty scare over the closing stretch.

The 29-year-old American, also winner of successive U.S. Open titles over the last two years, was seemingly cruising to a massive win when he made a birdie on the 10th hole to get to one-under par for the day and 13-under for the tournament. The only player making a charge at him was his best friend and reigning World No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he had made a bogey on the 11th hole moments earlier and the lead was still a very healthy six shots.

And then came the capitulation. It lasted for four holes and even though it did not make a difference to the overall result as Johnson also made mistakes late into his round, it did make for compulsive viewing as things started to get tight at the top.

He dropped a shot on the 11th hole from the fairway bunker, limiting the damage to just one with a clutch seven-feet bogey putt, and then made bogeys with errant tee shots on the next three holes. At that stage, Koepka had slipped to nine-under par and Johnson was just one behind at eight-under.

The New York crowd started chanting ‘DJ, DJ’, which just seemed to steal Koepka’s resolve. The tee shot on the 15th—the hardest hole on the golf course—was going to be critical, and he just bombed one 350 yards down the centre of the fairway. There was another bogey to be made on the 17th hole, but a one-over finish on the final four holes, coupled with Johnson making bogeys on the 16th and 17th, sealed a two-shot win for Koepka (74).

It is his fourth win in last eight Major starts and makes him only the 11th player in the history of the game to win four Majors under the age of 30. More importantly, it has taken him back to the World No. 1 ranking.

Johnson (69) had to be satisfied with a second-place finish at six-under par, with a resurgent Jordan Spieth (71) tied third at two-under par alongside the 2018 Hero Indian Open champion Matt Wallace (72) and Patrick Cantlay (71).

Korea’s Sung Kang (72) was the best-placed Asian at solo seventh place on even par, while Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond (77) faltered over the closing holes and made a double on the 12th hole followed by five bogeys on the next five holes. He finished tied 14th at 282, which secures him a return invite to the PGA Championship next year.

After throwing a massive right upper cut when he drained his six-feet par putt on the 18th, Koepka said the vociferous crowd acted as the tonic he needed.

“I’m just glad I don’t have to play any more holes. That was a stressful round of golf. I’m glad to have this thing back in my hands,” said the man who has just two wins in regular PGA Tour events as against his four Major titles.

“Today was definitely the most satisfying out of all of them for how stressful that round was–how stressful DJ made that. I know for a fact that was the most excited I’ve ever been in my life there on 18.

“It’s New York. What do you expect when you’re half-choking it away? When they started chanting, ‘DJ’ on 14, it actually kind of helped, to be honest with you. It helped me kind of refocus and hit a good one down 15. I think that was probably the best thing that could have happened.”

The wind, which rose to nearly 35mph at times, was the biggest challenge for the field and it definitely ended Johnson’s quest when he misjudged it on the 16th hole after hitting a perfect drive. His approach shot went over the green and he missed his up-and-down for par, giving Koepka the breathing space he needed before a second straight bogey on the 17th.

“I knew today, starting off, that it was going to play tough. The wind was up. It was the most wind we’ve had all week,” said Johnson, who now has a career Grand Slam of finishing second in all four Majors.

“I knew if I could get off to a good start, which I did, that I could maybe put a little bit of pressure on him, and I did that, too.

“Just the last three holes is what got me. Standing on 16 fairway, I’m at eight-under, and hit two really good shots there on 16, and I still don’t know how my ball went over the green there. Obviously not a spot where you can go. I knew I needed to birdie one of the last two when I made the bogey there.

“But I’m very pleased with the way I played. I feel like my game’s been pretty good all year. I felt like I really, really played well tee-to-green. I just didn’t make enough putts to have been tied with Brooks going into Sunday.”

Spieth was looking to complete a career Grand Slam with a win in the PGA Championship, instead he will have to take heart from the fact that he finally secured a top-10–his first after last year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

“This is the best I’ve felt in quite a while. I’m very happy,” said Spieth, who had fallen to No. 39 in the World Ranking and was 150th in the FedEx Cup standing going into the tournament.

“It’s the same reason the last five or six years, my best finishes are in the Majors. We pick a plan to peak for the Majors. It’s very difficult to try and to do that every week because you use a lot of energy up. The next couple of days, I don’t feel like I can do anything. I’ve got to just rest and recover.

“My score in Majors typically reflects the state of my game at that time and I’ve been speaking of how it’s been closer and better than maybe results would show, and I feel the same about how I finish this week.”

“I knew coming into the week that it was unlikely on this golf course that I was going to have a chance to win, and that’s a humbling feeling for me. But I knew that if I played the course the right way, had the right mentality, kept putting the way I’ve been putting, that I would be in it, I’d have a chance to make some noise.”

Rory McIlroy, who was way outside the cutline after the first 27 holes, shot a second consecutive 69 over the weekend and improved to tied eighth place at one-over par–his ninth top-10 finish in 10 starts this season.

LEADERBOARD (Par-70 course)

272 – Brooks Koepka (USA) 63-65-70-74

274 – Dustin Johnson (USA) 69-67-69-69

278 – Jordan Spieth (USA) 69-66-72-71, Patrick Cantlay (USA) 69-70-68-71, Matt Wallace (England) 69-67-70-72

279 – Luke List (USA) 68-68-69-74

280 – Sung Kang (KOR) 68-70-70-72

281 – Gary Woodland (USA) 70-70-73-68, Shane Lowry (IRL) 75-69-68-69, Rory McIlroy (NIR) 72-71-69-69, Matt Kuchar (USA) 70-70-72-69, Erik Van Rooyen (RSA) 70-68-70-73, Adam Scott (AUS) 71-64-72-74

282 – Chez Reavie (USA) 68-71-71-72, Jazz Janewattananond (THA) 70-68-67-77

283 – Mike Lorenzo-Vera (FRA) 68-71-75-69, Brandt Snedeker (USA) 74-67-73-69, Abraham Ancer (MEX) 73-70-69-71, Lucas Glover (USA) 72-69-69-73, Lucas Bjerregaard (DEN) 71-69-70-73, Xander Schauffele (USA) 70-69-68-76, Hideki Matsuyama (JPN) 70-68-68-77

284 – Jason Day (AUS) 69-74-69-72, Emiliano Grillo (ARG) 76-67-70-71, Billy Horschel (USA) 70-72-71-71, Jason Kokrak (USA) 73-70-71-70, Thomas Pieters (BEL) 74-70-71-69, Jimmy Walker (USA) 70-70-71-73

285 – Keegan Bradley (USA) 70-70-73-72, Sam Burns (USA) 70-72-69-74, Paul Casey (ENG) 70-71-75-69, Adam Hadwin (CAN) 72-70-70-73, Graeme McDowell (NIR) 70-72-73-70, Justin Rose (ENG) 70-67-73-75, Webb Simpson (USA) 72-69-72-72.

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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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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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