Koepka's goal: Become world No. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 2, 2015, 8:56 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. - For the longest time, Brooks Koepka was known primarily for the stamps in his passport.

His peers knew better.

As he began his first year as a PGA Tour member in the Frys.com Open last October, players would stop when they saw Koepka and watch him walk to the putting green or driving range. The consensus? This guy is going to be good.

More than the words of other players, Koepka now has the trophies to back it up.

He won the Turkish Airlines Open last November during the final stretch of the Race to Dubai on the European Tour. Against an even stronger field in the Phoenix Open, the 24-year-old Floridian went 64-66 on the weekend and played his last 47 holes without a bogey.

Koepka (pronounced KEP'-kuh) was among five players tied for the lead in the final hour, but only after rolling in a 50-foot eagle putt from the fringe on the 15th. He seized control when his 3-wood on the 322-yard 17th hole rolled over the green and stopped a foot from the water.


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One hole away from his first PGA Tour victory, on a closing hole at the TPC Scottsdale framed by bunkers, he blasted his drive 331 yards down the middle.

It was a strong performance, and it looks even better considering Koepka now has won twice in his last four starts, rose to No. 19 in the world and put his name into the conversation for a U.S. team at the Presidents Cup that is getting younger by the week.

Golf is going through an undeniable generation shift, led by Rory McIlroy, who won in Dubai on Sunday to expand his growing gap in the world ranking. Jordan Spieth, the 21-year-old Texan, is No. 9 in the world. Patrick Reed, 24, won his fourth PGA Tour event at the start of the year.

Koepka was never mentioned in that group when he turned pro because he didn't have their credentials. He was the guy who pursued his career in golf's remote outposts - Kazakhstan and Kenya, Norway and the Czech Republic.

He had a decorated career at Florida State, though he never won a tournament until his senior year (and won three times) and played in the NCAA Championship only twice, never finishing higher than a tie for 18th.

Spieth was a Sunday feature at the Byron Nelson Championship when he was 16, joined Tiger Woods as the only multiple winners of the U.S. Junior Amateur, played on an NCAA title team at Texas and in the Walker Cup.

Reed helped Augusta State to a pair of NCAA titles and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Amateur.

Koepka won a Challenge Tour event - the equivalent of the Web.com Tour in Europe - in Spain, and then tried his hand at Q-School for a PGA Tour card. He failed to get out of the second stage, missing by two shots in Texas. He wasn't alone. He tied that week with Spieth.

And that's when their paths went in different directions.

Spieth chose sponsor exemptions, and Monday qualifying if needed, on the Web.com Tour. He got a break by tying for second in the Puerto Rico Open on the PGA Tour after getting a sponsor exemption. Then came a rocket rise - Tour status in May, a victory in July and a spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Koepka headed for the airport.

He had status on the Challenge Tour from his win at the Catalunya Challenge, and he won in Italy in May. He followed with victories in Spain and Scotland to earn an instant promotion to the European Tour, each step bringing higher status. And he already had more wins than he did in college.

''Whether it be success or failure, I have learned a lot,'' Koepka said. ''I think I won maybe two, three times in college. But it's funny. Looking back, I have won on the Challenge Tour, one in Europe and one here now. It's been special. But my drive, I think, is what it is. I want to be the best player in the world. I'm not there yet, and I know it's going to take time. But I want to get to that point.''

And he runs in good circles. His roommate in Florida and frequent travel companion on the global road of the European Tour was former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, who tied for 13th in Dubai.

He also plays practice rounds with McIlroy, whom he knows from Europe and living in South Florida, though they rarely see each other at home.

Koepka says he might be a late bloomer, though hard work cannot be dismissed. And he has no qualms with where he went to get to where he is now. He wanted experience. He wanted four rounds on Challenge Tour events instead of being hopeful for exemptions or lucky with Monday qualifiers.

He can't complain about the results.

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm