SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — As Brooks Koepka heads to San Francisco this week, history and his ailing body don’t seem to give him much of chance to win his third straight PGA Championship when play begins at the TPC Harding Park course on Thursday.
Koepka won a thriller at Bellerive in 2018, when he set the PGA Championship scoring record at 264 and matched the lowest score at any major. He nearly blew a seven-shot lead last year at Bethpage Black before winning by two. It helped that he set the 36-hole record for all majors at 128 with what he calls the best golf he ever played.
But this isn’t the same player. Koepka had stem cell treatment after last season because of a partially torn patella. Two weeks later, he slipped on a wet slab of concrete at the CJ Cup in South Korea and injured his left knee further, keeping him out for three months. And then he lost another three months to the pandemic.
He has gone a year without winning.
Last week at the World Golf Championship, he said he is adjusting his swing to accommodate his left knee and Koepka had his best chance of winning, tied for the lead until hitting into the water off the tee on the final hole as Justin Thomas won.
For someone with this much history on the line, Koepka still has managed to avoid the spotlight in the weeks leading into the PGA Championship. Attribute that to the pandemic, and the PGA Tour’s return to golf two months ago in which positive tests — eight so far — get as much attention as birdies and bogeys.
“We’re in different times now,” said Curtis Strange, part of the ESPN broadcast team who had his shot at three straight U.S. Opens in 1990. “All sports have been put on the back burner just a little bit. I haven’t read a lot about it, and I’ve talked a couple times to reporters about three in a row. … But it would be a hell of an accomplishment.”
The list of failures in repeat champion performances at major includes the likes of Tiger Woods.
Woods has won at least three straight times at four PGA Tour events — three in a row at Firestone and Memorial, four in a row at Torrey Pines and Bay Hill. Just not in the majors.
He has gone back-to-back in the Masters and British Open, and twice in the PGA Championship. He tied for 29th in the 2001 PGA in Atlanta. He tied for 15th in the 2003 Masters. He tied for 12th at Carnoustie. He never got a chance in 2008 because of season-ending knee surgery.
The Masters is the one major no one has won three straight times, and Woods knew it. He also knew the opportunity was rare. “If you’re ever in that position, you want to take advantage of it because it doesn’t happen all the time,” he said.
He went 21 holes before making his first birdie. He opened with a 76, his worst start in a major. And he never had another shot at three straight Masters.