Victory Drought Over Woods Wins Bay Hill
On a cool, overcast day in Orlando, Fla., fortune shined brightly on Woods, as an errant tee shot on the par-4 18th ricocheted off a spectator and stayed in bounds. Tiger took advantage of the gift, lacing a 5-iron from 195 yards to within 15 feet of the hole. One putt and a series of fist pumps later, Woods was back in the winners circle.
It was ugly. Thats all I can say about it, said Woods, who earned $630,000 for his 25th career PGA Tour victory. I was very lucky to have the breaks that occurred and executed a couple of good shots after that.
Playing two groups in front of Woods, who shot 3-under 69, Mickelson fired the low round of the day, a bogey-free, 6-under-par 66 to finish within one shot of claiming his second title of the season (Buick Invitational).
Mickelson birdied four of his first seven holes on the back nine to momentarily take sole possession of the lead at 14-under-par, and then scrambled to enter the clubhouse on that number.
Woods quickly tied the lefty with a birdie on the par-5 16th. Then, following an excruciating miss at the 17th, which brought the defending champion to his knees; Tiger rebounded majestically for his first PGA Tour victory in his last nine tournaments played.
Woods entered the final round with a one-stroke lead over Sergio Garcia. They struck their first blows a little past 10:00am ET (the tee times were moved up due to the strong possibility of rain, which never occurred.) They were also joined by a third, Chris Perry.
Just two back as the day began, Perry stayed in contention by saving par over his first seven holes. However, his inability to hit greens in regulation caught up with him before the turn, as he bogeyed both the eighth and ninth holes.
Perry, whose only Tour victory came in the 1998 B.C. Open, dropped in a couple of birdies putts on the back nine, including a 35-footer on No. 11. But a hooked approach shot at the par-4 finishing hole eventually led to a triple bogey 7 and a tie for eighth place. Had he parred the last, Perry would have finished in solo third place - a difference of $147,000.
It didnt take Garcia long to tie Woods for the lead, though it was by Tigers own doing.
After hitting a perfect drive down the middle of the fairway on the par-4 1st, Woods struck his approach shot 50 feet past the hole, where he three-putted for a bogey.
The two men remained tied at the top through the next four holes ' both birdied the par-5 4th. Then everything changed at the par-5 6th.
Despite hitting a near-perfect tee shot into the middle of the fairway, Garcia went for the green in two. That wasnt a surprise; he was only 214 yards from the pin. What was a surprise, however, was that he attacked the flag.
With the hole tucked to the left side, less than 10 feet clear of the water, Garcia blasted a 6-iron and came up short ' and wet.
I just kind of got too anxious there, Garcia later said.
Because neither he nor anyone in his group could correctly determine if Garcias ball ever crossed land near the green, the 21-year-old Spaniard was forced to take a drop some 200 yards from the hole.
His fourth shot barely cleared the water, but still wasnt on the green. In fact, it would take two more shots before he finally found the putting surface. He then two-putted for a triple-bogey 8.
Meanwhile, Woods was in great shape. He flew his tee shot past Garcias and then placed his second shot to the back fringe, where he got up and down for a birdie 4.
The hole proved to be a four-shot swing for the one-time co-leaders. Tiger walked to the seventh at 13-under; Garcia did so at 9-under.
In effect, that sealed the Spaniards fate. He only managed to collect one more stroke to par over his final 12 holes. Garcia finished with a 2-over-par 74. He tied for 4th at 9-under.
I missed very few shots today, said Garcia. Just couldnt get it in the hole. But Im really happy with the way I hit the ball.
With Garcia out of the way, Tiger still wasnt out of the woods just yet. He continued to struggle with his accuracy, missing fairways and greens, and relying on a very steady putter to salvage pars.
Tiger made a 12-footer for par at the 7th; a six-footer for par at the 8th; and a five-footer for par at the 9th to make the turn with the outright lead by three at 13-under.
The 11th was a two-shot swing hole. Mickelson made birdie, while Tiger made bogey. Then Mickelson, the 1997 Bay Hill champion, birdied the 12th to grab a share of first place.
Woods would remain at 12-under-par until he drained a 35-foot birdie putt at the par-3 14th. There were no fist pumps, just a sigh of relief that one had finally gone in the hole.
He would soon learn how important that birdie was. Crossing over to the 15th hole, Tiger glanced at the scoreboard. He was still tied with Mickelson, who birdied 15, at 14-under.
The next scoreboard that Tiger saw was on the par-5 16th tee box. This time he was trailing Mickelson - who also birdied 16 - by one stroke.
With a long par-3 and the difficult 18th up ahead, Woods knew he had to conquer the vulnerable 16th. However, his tee shot again went left and into the rough. Faced with a flier lie and 195 yards to the front of the green, Woods chose 7-iron and safely found the green. He two-putted to once again tie for the lead at 14-under.
Mickelson had to do some work to remain in a share of first place. A poor tee shot forced him to lay-up in front of the water-guarded green at the par-4 18th. With 82 yards to the pin, Mickelson showed his deft touch by nearly holing an L-wedge, and then successfully navigating in his par putt.
With two chances to avoid a playoff, Tiger just missed a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th. The ball finished inches right of the hole, causing an agonizing reaction from Woods.
What happened next was even more painful ' at least for one spectator. Tiger hooked a driver into the gallery, hitting a man in the neck. The patrons wife then picked up the ball, before dropping it back down.
I got lucky, said Woods following his round. If it would have hit the cart path, it would have been gone.
Instead, Woods was given a free drop ' since someone had moved his ball ' and then proceeded to smoke a 5-iron over the water to within 15 feet of the hole.
If I blow it at all, its in the water, said Woods. I hit that shot so flush. It was just fun to see it in the air.
But not nearly as fun as sinking the winning putt.
It feels great. This is what you need to have happen in order to win, said Woods, who had been complaining that he had not been receiving the breaks he got in a nine-win season a year ago.
You cant always go out there and shoot ' like say, what Phil did today and win.
Mickelson would have been the perfect foil for Woods. He ended Tigers streak of six-straight PGA Tour victories by topping him in last years Buick Invitational. He then came from behind to beat Woods in the Tour Championship.
The loss at the Tour Championship marked just the second time in Tigers career that he had blown a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event. His conversion rate now stands at 20 for 22.
Well its nice to be able to sneak one out on him like that, said Woods.
Woods and the rest of the games elite will now head north on Interstate 95 to Ponte Vedra Beach for the final event of the Florida Swing, THE PLAYERS Championship; where the worlds No. 1 ranked player wont have to answer any questions about his victory drought.
I guess if I dont win next week, I dont know if its a slump or not, he said. One in a row, I dont know.
Click here for full-field scores from the Bay Hill Invitational
U.S. Open purse payout: Koepka clears $2 million
Brooks Koepka successfully defended his title at the U.S. Open and he was handsomely rewarded for his efforts. Here's a look at how the purse was paid out at Shinnecock Hills.
|T25||Charles Howell III||+12||$79,200|
|T36||Rafa Cabrera Bello||+13||$54,054|
|T48||Luis Gagne (a)||+16||$0|
|T48||Matt Parziale (a)||+16||$0|
|66||Will Grimmer (a)||+23||$0|
|67||Byeong Hun An||+26||$23,470|
What's in the bag: U.S. Open winner Koepka
Brooks Koepka won his second consecutive U.S. Open title on Sunday at Shinnecock Hills. Here's a look inside the winner's bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 70 TX shaft
Fairway woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees), with Mitsubishi Diamana D+ 80 TX shaft
Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3), with Fujikura Pro 95 Tour Spec shaft; Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts, PW with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shaft
Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x
Repeat U.S. Open win gives Koepka credit he deserves
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – In an ironic twist Sunday, the last man to win consecutive U.S. Opens was tasked with chronicling Brooks Koepka’s final round at Shinnecock Hills.
Carrying a microphone for Fox Sports, Curtis Strange kept his composure as the on-course reporter. He didn’t cough in Koepka’s downswing. Didn’t step on his ball in the fescue. Didn’t talk too loudly while Koepka lined up a putt.
Instead, Strange stood off to the side, clipboard covering his mouth, and watched in awe as Koepka stamped himself as the best U.S. Open player of this next generation.
And so after Koepka became the first player in 29 years to take consecutive Opens, Strange found himself fourth in the greeting line near the 18th green. He was behind Koepka’s playing competitor, Dustin Johnson. And he was behind Koepka’s father, Bob. And he was behind Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott.
But there Strange was, standing on a sandy path leading to the clubhouse, ready to formally welcome Koepka into one of the most exclusive clubs in golf.
“Hell of a job, bud,” Strange barked in his ear, above the din. “Incredible.”
That Koepka prevailed on two wildly different layouts, and in totally different conditions, was even more satisfying.
Erin Hills, in Middle of Nowhere, Wis., was unlike any U.S. Open venue in recent memory. The wide-open fairways were lined with thick, deep fescue, but heavy rain early in the week and the absence of any significant wind turned golf’s toughest test into the Greater Milwaukee Open. Koepka bashed his way to a record-tying score (16 under par) and over the past year has never felt fully appreciated, in large part because of the weirdness of the USGA setup.
Koepka doesn’t concern himself with that type of noise, of course, but when he arrived at Shinnecock earlier this week he felt a sense of familiarity. The generous fairways. The punishing venue. The premium on iron play.
“It’s a similar feel,” Elliott said. “We said it all week.”
A new, quirky venue like Erin Hills might not have been held in high regard, but the rich history of Shinnecock? It demanded respect.
“He’s some player,” Strange said, “and I’m proud of him because there was some talk last year of Erin Hills not being the Open that is supposed to be an Open. But he won on a classic, so he’s an Open player.”
“This one is a lot sweeter,” Koepka said.
Those around the 28-year-old were shocked that he even had a chance to defend his title.
Last fall Koepka began feeling discomfort in his left wrist. He finished last in consecutive tournaments around the holidays, then underwent an MRI that showed he had a torn ligament in his left wrist.
Koepka takes immense pride in having a life outside of golf – he never watches Tour coverage on off-weeks – but he was downright miserable during his indefinite stint on the sidelines. He said it was the lowest point of his career, as he sat in a soft cast up to his elbow, binge-watching TV shows and gaining 15 pounds. The only players he heard from during his hiatus: Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
“You just feel like you get forgotten,” Koepka said.
During the spring, Elliott would occasionally drive from Orlando to Jupiter, Fla., to check on his boss. “He was down in the dumps,” he said. “That sort of injury he had, it didn’t seem like there was going to be an end. There was no timeframe on it, and that was the most frustrating thing.”
After the Masters, Koepka told Elliott that his wrist was feeling better and that he was going to start hitting balls. Elliott brought his clubs to South Florida, and they played a few holes at The Floridian.
“He was hitting it right on the button,” Elliott said. “I said, ‘Are you sure you haven’t been practicing?’ He hadn’t missed a beat. I have no idea how he does it. He’s just a tremendously talented guy.”
In limited action before the Open, Koepka fired a trio of 63s, at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial. He’s never been short on confidence – as a 12-year-old he once told his dad that he was going to drop out of school in four years and turn pro – and he recently woofed to swing coach Claude Harmon III that he was primed to win sometime in May or June.
“I said to him on the range this morning, ‘You were on your couch in January and February, not really knowing if you were going to be able to play here,’” Harmon said. “I think that’s why it means so much to him. That’s one of the reasons that he kept saying no one was more confident than him, because to get this opportunity to come back and play and have a chance to win back-to-back U.S. Opens, he was going to take advantage of it as best he could.”
Koepka carded a second-round 66 to put himself in the mix, then survived a hellacious third-round setup to join a four-way tie for the lead, along with Johnson, the world No. 1 and his fellow Bash Brother.
As much as Johnson is praised for his resilience, Koepka has proven to be equally tough in crunch time, especially in this major. There’s no better stage for Koepka to showcase his immense gifts than the Open, an examination that tests players physically, mentally and even spiritually. But Koepka, like Johnson, never joined the growing chorus of complainers at Shinnecock. The closest he came to criticizing the setup was this: “I think the course is very close.”
Rather than whine, he said that he relished the challenge of firing away from flags. He accepted bad shots. He tried to eliminate double bogeys. Even after his wrist injury, Koepka showed no hesitation gouging out of the deep fescue, his ferocious clubhead speed allowing him to escape the rough and chase approach shots near the green, where he could rely on his sneaky-good short game.
“He has the perfect game to play in majors,” Harmon said. “He probably plays more conservatively in majors. We’re always joking that we wish he would play the way he does in majors every week. I just think he knows how important pars and bogeys are. It says a lot about him as a player.”
Johnson has many of the same physical and mental attributes, and they’ve each benefited from the other’s intense focus and discipline. They both adhere to a strict diet and are frequent workout partners, which even included a gym session on Sunday morning, before their penultimate pairing. They made small talk, chatting about lifting and how many of the Sunday pins were located in the middle of the green, but after they arrived at the course they barely said two words to each other.
“They’re good friends on and off the course,” Harmon said, “but they definitely want to kick the s--- out of each other.”
“That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Strange said. “If they’re best buddies, well, you’re standing between me and the trophy. You don’t care much for him for 4 1/2 hours.”
There was much at stake Sunday, but none more significant than Koepka’s march on history. Squaring off head-to-head against the game’s best player, Koepka outplayed Johnson from the outset, going 3 under for the first 10 holes to open up a two-shot lead. And unlike at Erin Hills, where he pulled away late with birdies, it was his par (and bogey) saves that kept Koepka afloat on Nos. 11, 12 and 14.
In the end, he clipped Fleetwood (who shot a record-tying 63) by one and Johnson by two.
“You’ve got to give him a lot of credit,” Strange said, shaking his head. “He’s got a lot of guts.”
As Koepka marched away to sign his card, Strange was asked if it was bittersweet to know that he’s no longer the answer to the trivia question, the last guy to go back-to-back at the Open.
“Heck no!” he said. “What are they going to do, take one away? I’m a part of a group. And it’s a good group. I hope it means as much to him as it has to me.”
This time, Dad gets to enjoy Koepka's Father's Day win
SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – When Brooks Koepka won his first U.S. Open last year at Erin Hills the celebration was relatively subdued.
His family didn’t attend the ’17 championship, but there was no way they were missing this year’s U.S. Open.
“This year we booked something about five miles away [from Shinnecock Hills]," said Koepka’s father, Bob. "We weren’t going to miss it and I’m so glad we’re here.”
The family was treated to a show, with Koepka closing with a 68 for a one-stroke victory to become the first player since Curtis Strange in 1989 to win back-to-back U.S. Opens.
Koepka called his father early Sunday to wish him a happy Father’s Day, and Bob Koepka said he noticed a similar confidence in his son’s voice to the way he sounded when they spoke on Sunday of last year’s championship.
There was also one other similarity.
“Two years in a row, I haven't gotten him anything [for Father’s Day],” Brooks Koepka laughed. “Next year, I'm not going to get him anything either. It might bring some good luck.
“It's incredible to have my family here, and my dad loves golf. To be here, he loves watching. To share it with him this time, it will be a little bit sweeter.”