PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Brooks Koepka won the PGA Championship two months ago after taking a seven-stroke lead into the final round.
On Sunday, he will try to win the Open Championship from seven strokes behind.
Despite birdies on the last two holes that gave him a four-under-par 67 at Royal Portrush, Koepka couldn’t mask his discontent with his position through three rounds of the 148th Open. At nine-under 204, he trails Shane Lowry by seven after the Irishman shot a 63 to post 16-under 207. Only two players, Tommy Fleetwood (12 under) and J.B. Holmes (10 under) separate Koepka from the leader.
But he couldn’t care less how many players are ahead of him. He just sees the seven-shot disparity, which he knows from his experience at Bethpage Black can dissolve quickly. Koepka hung on for a two-stroke victory over Dustin Johnson to successfully defend his PGA title.
“I guess if you put it that way,” Koepka said when reminded how his lead was threatened, at one point getting down to one stroke. “The last time Shane had the lead at Oakmont [four shots in the 2016 U.S. Open] we saw that. At Bethpage, it can go very quickly. Bad weather happened at Bethpage. I guess maybe the last, what, 15 holes was very, very windy, especially that back nine.
“In links golf, all of a sudden a couple of bad bounces, and you never know, or in a couple of bunkers.”
Koepka wouldn’t know much about bunkers or bad bounces. His tee-to-green game has been impeccable (he ranks fourth strokes gained/tee to green). But once on the greens, he can’t find the hole. It’s a common lament this week for the four-time major winner.
“Yeah, nobody has hit it better than me this week. I've hit it as good as I could possibly imagine,” said Koepka, 29, of Jupiter, Fla., who is playing in his sixth Open. “I putted the worst in the entire field, if you look at strokes gained. I don't know if they have that. It's been really bad. Very frustrating. Disappointed.
“But thankfully it's going to blow tomorrow to have any sort of chance. I need to figure out the putter.”
He was on his way to the practice green to do just that, to “see if I can somehow . . . find anything,” he said.
As for the inhospitable weather forecast that prompted the R&A to move tee times forward, Koepka welcomes it.
“Yeah, I need it, being, what, seven back," he said. "Here you need some wind, you need some rain. You need anything that can kind of go your way. And that's got to be an advantage. Especially the way I'm striking the ball. I've struck it so good. If it's going to be windy, you need to be able to strike it good, control your flight, and figure out where you want the ball to end up. If it's going to blow 30, it can get out of control very quickly.
“I just need to putt good one day.”