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Koepka relishes chance to prove himself

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Tiger Woods of the United States walks across the Hogan Bridge with his caddie Joe LaCava during the third round of the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2015 in Augusta, Georgia.  - 

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – He’s had to add more pages to his passport, while stockpiling enough sky miles to buy his own airline, and along the way he has side-armed the status quo with a trailblazing spirit that would make both Lewis and Clark blush.

All things considered, it’s been pretty standard stuff for Brooks Koepka.

“He didn’t have much of a junior record, and I told him I would be limited as to what I could do for him with a scholarship,” Florida State golf coach Trey Jones recently told your scribe. “He told me, ‘Don’t give me anything, I just want a place to play.’”

And play he has.

Koepka blazed his way through the Challenge Tour last year, winning three times on the secondary circuit to earn status on the European Tour. He also took a two-stroke lead into the final round of last fall’s Open, the opening PGA Tour event for the 2013-14 season.

Dubai Desert Classic: Articles, videos and photos

Although he closed with a 1-over 72 to tie for third at the Frys, the long-hitting American didn’t spend much time lamenting his loss. He got back to work in December at the Thailand Golf Championship and set out this week on the back end of a month in the Middle East at the Dubai Desert Classic.

A second-round 65 pulled him to within one shot of the lead held by Rory McIlroy and midway through his round on Saturday he held a share of the lead for a time on a windy afternoon, but Koepka bogeyed three of his last seven holes to finish with a 2-under 70.

He will begin Sunday’s final turn tied for third and four strokes behind frontrunner Stephen Gallacher. Or, put another way, pretty much exactly where he wants to be.

If nothing else, Koepka is a gamer. He shares a house in south Florida with fellow European Tour standout Peter Uihlein and, on the rare occasions they are home together, the duo go head-to-head at every turn.

“Everything is competitive in that house,” he smiled.

It’s in Koepka’s DNA. Winning is the ultimate goal, but primarily he is driven to compete, which is why Sunday’s deficit in Dubai, or his late struggles in Round 3, didn’t seem to bother him.

“He loves to compete,” said Claude Harmon III, Koepka’s swing coach. “Anything, he just likes it. He goes out today and he played with Rory (McIlroy) and he’s freewheeling. He drives the green at the (par-4) second hole. It’s what he lives for.”

Koepka’s road less traveled motors down familiar lanes following Sunday’s final round, however the birdies and bogeys may fall.

According to his manager with Hambric Sports, Koepka will head home to south Florida and, depending on his finish on Sunday, is hoping to play the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.

He is currently 93rd in the Official World Golf Ranking and would likely need a victory to crack the top 64 and earn a trip to Tucson. Ironically, if he does land a spot at the year’s first World Golf Championship he could bump Uihlein, who is 66th in the world but missed the cut in Dubai, out of the field.

After that he plans to play the Honda Classic and Puerto Rico Open, both on sponsor exemptions, before returning to the European Tour in Asia after the Masters.

It’s also worth noting that even his vagabond ways are a bit of a competition. By his best estimates, he figures he's played in 21 different countries since leaving Florida State. He’s eaten horse in Kazakhstan - cue the Borat jokes - hoisted trophies in Scotland, Spain and Italy; and has no intentions of trading in his European Tour card for the safer confines of the PGA Tour.

“No, I’m going to stay out here. I want to do it like Adam Scott did it,” Koepka said.

But make no mistake, Koepka is not a natural road warrior. Without a hint of hyperbole, he admits he struggles with jet lag, so much so he’s been in the United Arab Emirates for nearly a month to acclimate to the time zone.

“I do,” he smiles. “It’s so bad. You laugh, but I really do have a hard time with jet lag.”

Golf, on the other hand, has appeared amazingly easy to him, even under the most intense lights. Saturday in Dubai, for example, being paired with McIlroy was almost second nature. It’s a lesson he learned while paired at last year’s PGA Championship with Tiger Woods in the final round.

“When I was playing with Tiger I got caught watching him. I’d watched him my whole life; it was just natural,” he said. “But I learned from that. I learned just to focus on my own game and not pay attention to anyone else.”

And his next lesson is just a day in Dubai.