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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.

Golf Lounge

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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