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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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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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