As the dust settles on the season’s second Major, we review the main talking points of the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
Brooks Koepka became the first back-to-back PGA champion since Tiger Woods (2006-07).
The writing was on the wall for the rest of the field as early as round one, when the imperious American fired a seven-under-par 63. However, he needed this seven-shot advantage going into the final round, after close friend Dustin Johnson started to reel him in in.
Four bogeys in four holes from the 11th opened the door and the gap became just one shot, before Johnson himself made a couple of costly errors and Koepka retained his title.
On the eve of the tournament, the 29-year-old revealed his double digits Major target and also suggested Majors were the easiest tournaments to win. He’s now putting his words into action – this was the new world number one’s fourth Major title in his last eight starts.
“It’s incredible,” said Koepka. “I don’t think I even thought I was going to do it that fast [achieve four Majors]. I don’t think anybody did, and to be standing here today with four majors, it’s mind-blowing.”
He’ll head to Pebble Beach next month as hot favourite to defend his US Open title and make it number five, before setting his sights on The Open at Royal Portrush – which, incidentally, is where his caddie Ricky Elliott played as a junior.
Major step forward for Matt
England’s Matt Wallace finished as the leading European in New York.
What a difference a week in golf can make. The 29-year-old was bitterly disappointed after coming second in the British Masters at Hillside seven days previously, and used his Evening Standard column to criticise his own behaviour.
“The way I reacted in banging my putter on the green on 18 was not right and, for that, I can only apologise,” said Wallace. “I’m really disappointed in the way I behaved. For 71 holes, I’d done really well, then let myself down badly with one petulant act.”
However, in brutal conditions at Bethpage, and with winds reaching 30mph, Wallace kept his emotions in check to finish tied for third.
After missing the cut at The Masters, the four-time Major winner put in ten days of hard graft in a swing studio at Wentworth. This graft is clearly paying off, as is his work with performance coach, Steve McGregor.
Wallace was unlucky to miss out on Ryder Cup selection last year, but now he’s starting to look like the real deal. With the biennial contest returning to Bethpage Black in five years’ time, you wouldn’t bet against him being a key figure in the European side.
“I could see myself playing Ryder Cup here [Bethpage in 2024],” reflected Wallace. “I want to be there now, I really do. And I feel like I can be there, whereas before maybe I didn’t feel like I could.”
Buggy for Daly
John Daly received an exemption from the PGA of America to ride a buggy for the duration of the tournament.
The 53-year-old, who won the championship in 1991, suffers from osteoarthritis in his right knee, but that didn’t stop him being the butt of the jokes among his peers.
Even Woods had a little dig. “Well, I walked with a broken leg, so …”, said the Masters champion. Eddie Pepperell also poked fun at the situation. After a disappointing opening round, the Englishman, Tweeted: “Good job I wasn’t allowed to play in a buggy today else I’d have driven in at some point”.
It’s no laughing matter for Daly, who is now hoping The R&A award him the same dispensation at Royal Portrush as he received at Bethpage.
Daly went on to miss the cut, but he had this to say: “I’m not one that wants to ride all the time. It’s just something that if I don’t, I’m not going to be able to play, I won’t be able to finish.”
Woods struggles on return
Woods missed his sixth cut in his past 11 Majors. It may have only been by a single shot, but the 15-time Major winner looked well off the pace, unsurprisingly so given this was his first start since winning at Augusta National.
The American carded two double bogeys over his first nine holes, but got right back on track courtesy of two birdies and an eagle within the space of four holes. However, he closed with a two-over-par 72, and could do no better a day later.
Normally, Woods would be seething with such a performance, but these are very different times, and having ridden the massive high of ending his 11-year wait for a Major title, he was more philosophical about his week’s effort.
“You know, I’m the Masters champion and 43 years old and that’s a pretty good accomplishment,” he reflected.
“The PGA was a quick turnaround, and unfortunately I just didn’t play well. I didn’t do all the little things I need to do correctly to post good scores and put myself in position to shoot good scores.”