Eagle propels Koepka to first PGA Tour win
Brooks Koepka has lost track of the miles flown, the oceans crossed and the stamps in his passport as he toiled in remote corners of the golfing world for more than two years to prepare himself for moments like Sunday at the Phoenix Open.
The most significant journey turned out to be the 50 feet his golf ball traveled from the fringe, up a ridge and right into the cup.
That eagle on the par-5 15th hole gave Koepka a share of the lead, and he left the mistakes to everyone else the rest of the way. He closed with a 5-under 66 for a one-shot victory and his first PGA Tour title.
“I left every long putt short today,” Koepka said. “I said to my caddie, ‘I’m finally going to get this one there.”’
Hideki Matsuyama, among five players who had a share of the lead over the wild final hour at the TPC Scottsdale, was the last player in Koepka’s way. The 22-year-old from Japan had an 18-foot putt to force a playoff, but it never had a chance and he closed with a 67.
Masters champion Bubba Watson (65) and Ryan Palmer (66) had to settle for pars on the three closing holes and joined Matsuyama in a tie for second. Martin Laird, tied for the lead with two holes to play, hit into the gallery on the 17th and made bogey and yanked his tee shot into the water on the 18th and made double bogey for a 72.
Warren JFK graduate Jason Kokrak closed with a bogey-free 67 to finish tied for 40th at 4-under 280.
A week that began with hype over Tiger Woods, who shot 82 and missed the cut by 12 shots, ended with yet another example of a massive generation shift.
The 24-year-old Koepka didn’t get the recognition of Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, or former U.S. Amateur champion Peter Uihlein, his roommate in Florida with whom he often traveled in Europe. His raw power got the attention of his peers, however, and Koepka went through enough trials to mature into a rising star.
His second victory in four starts against strong fields — he won the Turkish Airlines Open during the final stretch of the Race to Dubai in Europe in November — moved him to No. 19 in the world.
Koepka proved to be one smooth customer — he describes himself as “chill” — even when the starter pronounced his name as something like “cupcake” on the first tee. He laughed during practice swings. He wasn’t rattled when Matsuyama holed a wedge from 129 yards for eagle on the opening hole, or when the Japanese star added two more birdies to catch Laird, who began Sunday with a three-shot lead.