2023 PGA Championship leaderboard: Brooks Koepka wins fifth major, third PGA in return to elite form
Scaling the mountaintop once is difficult; staying there is nearly impossible. Returning to the summit is almost unheard of, but don't tell that to Brooks Koepka. Four years removed from capturing his last major championship, Koepka stood victorious at one of the sport's premier tournaments winning the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club by two strokes over Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler.
The victory is first for Koepka (-9) at a major since the 2019 PGA Championship. It marks a return to form for one of the game's brightest stars, who had been plagued over the last three years by knee injuries that led him to question whether he had a future atop the sport he once dominated.
Koepka scored consecutive 4-under 66s to storm to the top of the star-studded field over the weekend, adding a 67 on Sunday to join Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the third golfer to win three or more PGA Championships in the stroke-play era. He also becomes the fifth player to win as many PGAs and at least two U.S. Opens -- standing alongside Woods, Nicklaus, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen -- and the 20th in history with at least five major titles on their mantle.
While Koepka had seven top-10 finishes across the 13 majors he played since that 2019 PGA victory, he finished no better than 55th with two missed cuts in last season's four majors. To start 2023 with a pair of top-two finishes at the Masters and PGA, there's no question that Koepka has returned to form.
It all confirms what many already believed: Koepka is one of the great major championship competitors ever.
"I look back on where we were two years ago, everything that's gone on, I'm just so happy right now that I'm kind of at a loss for words," Koepka said after hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy. "To be with those group of names is absolutely incredible, something, I'll be honest, I'm not even sure if I dreamed of it as a kid winning this many."
Despite what the final score may suggest, Koepka's fifth major came with its fair share of adversity -- not only in the years leading up to it but just last month at the 2023 Masters (where he stood as the 54-hole leader only to finish second) and Sunday within the final round of the PGA Championship itself.
Kick-starting his day with three consecutive birdies on holes 2-4, Koepka saw his overnight lead balloon to three. And then he hit a speed bump. When his tee shot found the penalty area on the difficult par-4 6th, Koepka did well to just drop one before dropping another on the next.
All his hard work had temporarily been erased, and the added cushion he had built over Hovland suddenly evaporated. He made the turn in 1 under, as did Hovland, and went to the back nine face-to-face with the 25-year-old as Scheffler, the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year, was up ahead making a charge of his own.
Two birdies sandwiched a bogey on the 11th for Koepka, and while the par breakers added some breathing room, it was a par conversion on the par-5 13th that was vintage. Missing the green with his third and chipping his fourth to 10 feet above the hole, the 33-year-old successfully navigated a slippery par save to maintain a one-stroke edge over a surging Hovland.
Scheffler clawed his way to two back, but that would be as close as the Texan came to Koepka. Running out of holes, Scheffler's inability to apply pressure down the stretch -- along with birdies from Koepka and Hovland on the 14th -- meant the three-horse race was down to just the final pair.
Pars were exchanged on the tricky 15th, and the championship's deciding moment came soon after. With Hovland scrambling after hitting his second shot from the fairway bunker and into the lip, Koepka saw his moment to pounce. From the lush rough, his second tumbled towards the pin on the 16th and settled near tap-in distance for his seventh and final birdie of the day.
Koepka entered the hole leading by one and left up four. After that, Koepka's fifth major victory and spot among golf's immortality was secured.
Here's a breakdown of the rest of the leaderboard at the 2023 PGA Championship.
T2. Viktor Hovland (-7): For the third straight major championship, Hovland found himself with a legitimate chance to win. Unlike the first two, he still had that opportunity heading into the back nine as he matched Koepka punch for punch nearly the entire day. Birdie conversions on holes 13-14 maintained his one-stroke deficit before disaster struck two holes later. Hovland's chance to become the first major champion from Norway vanished when his second from the fairway bunker on the 16th embedded in the lip and led to a double bogey.
To make matters worse, Koepka went on to birdie the hole and stretch his lead to four. Hovland was able to cut the lead in half when all was said and done, but this major finish has to be more disappointing than the two prior given how close he was entering the back nine. Hovland is fun-loving, wide-smiling and capable of playing with the best of 'em.
"It's cool," said Hovland. "First place is a lot better than tied for second, but it is fun to even just have a chance to been one of these. Just making the cut and finishing 20th, you know, that's -- you haven't played poorly, but you've been a non-factor in the tournament. So to be in the last group, that was my second time and been in contention for three of these. That's pretty cool."
T2. Scottie Scheffler (-7): The world No. 2 once again snuck up on the field on Sunday. Stalling in the initial portion of his final round, Scheffler found some birdies before the turn just as Koepka began to struggle. He went from seven down to three down in the span of 30 minutes and suddenly launched himself into the conversation. Scheffler got as close as two with birdies on Nos. 13-14, but it ultimately proved to be too little too late.
After getting to 5 under at the 36-hole mark, Scheffler played his final 36 in 2 under lowlighted by his third-round 73. A victory would have been Scheffler's second major in six tries and his third rather large trophy (including the Players Championship). While it was not meant to be, Scheffler continues to stake his claim as the best player in the world -- he will steal that No. 1 spot from Jon Rahm on Monday when the Official World Golf Rankings are updated -- and he hasn't finished outside the top 12 on a leaderboard since October 2022.
T4. Bryson DeChambeau, Kurt Kitayama, Cameron Davis (-3): Golf is better when DeChambeau is playing well. He shot out the gates with a 4-under 66 only to play his final 54 holes in a 1-over fashion to claim his first worldwide top five since the 2021 BMW Championship. After gaining nearly six strokes with the big stick the first two days, the 2020 U.S. Open champion struggled with off the tee but showed a ton of guts in the process.
T7. Rory McIlroy, Sepp Straka (-2): McIlroy's up-and-down final round was an encapsulation of his week. The 34-year-old arrived on site with a visible chip on his shoulder, lamenting that he was feeling less than 100% physically. Then, he got off to yet another poor start in a major championship. The world No. 3 battled back Thursday and continued his march over the next 54 holes. He again showed that he had more than enough firepower to contend down the stretch. McIlroy carded 10 birdies over the weekend, but the mistakes piled up. Where does Rory go from here? Now nine years removed from his last major triumph at the 2014 PGA Championship, he appears to be searching for his identity as he leaves yet another one inside the top 10 but without a trophy.
"I'll look back on this week as proud of how I hung in there, and I guess my attitude and sticking to it, not having my best stuff," said McIlroy. "Probably not a ton of memorable golf shots hit. My playing partner today hit a couple memorable golf shots, though. Yeah, the atmosphere out there, playing with Michael [Block], was unbelievable. We both got amazing support, but you know, he got unbelievable support, understandably so, being in this position as a club pro and playing so well and, you know, competing into the latter stages of a major championship. It was really impressive."
T9. Patrick Cantlay, Cameron Smith, Justin Rose (-1): It will go down as Cantlay's fourth straight top 15 finish in a major championship, but even he knows there is still work to be done. The world No. 4 got off to a dreadful start Thursday and played his final 54 holes in 5 under. He polished off his time in Rochester with a 4-under 66. Cantlay ranked second in strokes gained off the tee on a course that demanded excellence with the big stick but fell woefully short on and around the green. He was never close to sniffing contention.
T15. Michael Block, Tyrrell Hatton and two others (+1): What more is there to say? The club pro from Southern California took New York by storm in his fifth appearance at a PGA Championship. He nearly touched the lead Friday and got welcomed into the weekend with tee times alongside 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose on Saturday and McIlroy on Sunday. As if that wasn't enough, Block gave the rowdy Rochester faithful even more to cheer about with a hole-in-one on the par-3 15th. Even that wasn't his best moment in the final round as the 46-year-old converted an unlikely up-and-down on the 72nd hole to secure his spot in the 2024 PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Rickie Fowler experiencing career resurgence in 2023 leads to renewed hope for first victory in four years
Here is a non-exhaustive list of players who have been statistically worse than Rickie Fowler since the start of 2023: Rory McIlroy, Cameron Young, Jordan Spieth, Tyrrell Hatton, Justin Thomas, Viktor Hovland, Matt Fitzpatrick, Sam Burns, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed and Tom Kim.
Again, that's non-exhaustive.
Fowler hasn't received the praise I certainly expected because, after three years of wandering, he still hasn't won since the 2019 Phoenix Open. Make no mistake about it, however, he's playing at an incredible clip worthy of inclusion in discussion among the best players in the world.
On Monday, Fowler was invited to next week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill based on the number of PGA points (separate from FedEx Cup points) he's earned so far this season. He also rose to No. 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings, his highest placement on the list since November 2020. As Brentley Romine of Golf Channel pointed out, if he can maintain that level in the OWGR, he will also qualify into the U.S. Open in June and Open Championship in July.
Fowler has only played three majors since the November 2020 Masters. He got an exemption into the 2021 PGA Championship, where he finished in the top 10, earning a spot in the following year's PGA. He also got into the 2021 Open Championship, which Collin Morikawa won. He missed six other majors because he fell to nearly No. 200 in the OWGR.
He's been a menace on the course so far this year. Top 20s at Torrey Pines, Phoenix and Riviera were followed by a T13 at the Players Championship, a T10 at the Texas Open and two top 15s in a row at the RBC Heritage and Wells Fargo Championship, both of which carry the new designated event status on the PGA Tour schedule.
"It's definitely been a bit more consistent," Fowler said of his play so far this year before a T14 at the Wells Fargo.
"Feel like it's been weeks where I've been able to rely on maybe one or two parts of the game. Really haven't had everything yet, but I'd say the state that I feel like I'm at in the last few years, that would be a missed cut or finishing in the back of the pack and now being able to manage and keep things moving forward, build momentum, that's turning those weeks into top 20s and top 10s."
Fowler's iron play -- always a signature of his game -- had dropped way off the last several years. He went from consistently being a top 25 approach play golfer in the world to hitting approach shots at a worse-than-Tour-average clip.
Much of this happened as Fowler transitioned away from swing coach Butch Harmon to John Tillery. Fowler recently reunited with Harmon, and the results have been evident. (Fowler credits Tillery for setting him up to take off again with Harmon.)
Fowler is having the single best season he's ever had when it comes to approach play. And while his driving has been average to above average, he's thriving because of his iron play. Among players with at least 25 measured rounds since January 1, only Scottie Scheffler, Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm have been better on approach shots. Combined wins: seven. It's pretty great company to keep.
Now Fowler sets his sights on something bigger than just getting into the field at majors. Harmon predicted a win at some point this year, and what may have sounded crazy four months ago no longer sounds crazy. Fowler is a legitimate threat to win every time he tees it up, even if nobody has realized it yet.
That's a good thing, too. Because no matter how you feel about the former Oklahoma State superstar, it's almost impossible to deny this fact which will play out in obvious ways at the PGA Championship and beyond: Rickie Fowler is great for golf, and professional golf is better off when he's playing at the highest level.
Source: CBS Sports
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