SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) — Just when it looked like Brooks Koepka’s dream of a 3rd straight PGA Championship was evaporating under the weight of three straight bogeys, his steely competitive nature kicked in.
Koepka birdied two of his final 18 holes during Saturday’s round to halt the slide down the leaderboard and keep the leaders well within reach. He entered Sunday at 7-under par, trailing tourney leader Dustin Johnson by just two shots.
“I’ve been in this position before and capitalized,” said Koepka, who overcame a one-shot deficit for his first major victory, the 2017 U.S. Open. “DJ’s only won once. I’m playing good, so we’ll see.”
After Saturday round, Koepka was calm when asked about the back nine stumble. He carded three straight 5s on the par-4 13th, 14th and 15th holes.
“I thought I played a lot better than the score reflected,” Koepka said. “I made one bad swing.”
One bad swing and a couple of bad breaks led to the bogeys that undermined what was an otherwise solid day.
Koepka is in the same spot he was coming into the third round — two shots out of the lead. But instead of tied for second, he’s tied for fourth. And instead of chasing Li Haotong, he’s trying to catch his workout buddy Johnson, who shot 65.
Also in the group of 17 players within four shots of the lead are Justin Rose (6 under) and Jason Day (6 under), who have won one major apiece. Koepka has won four. Nobody else in that bunch has any.
“A lot of experience is what I can bring to it,” Koepka said.
He said the stiff hip that brought the trainer out to work on him during Friday’s second round is not an issue. If it was bothering him in the third round, it didn’t show.
At one point late in the afternoon, Koepka was one of 15 players within two shots of the lead. He had pulled within one, and didn’t have a single bogey on his card, when he hit his approach shot out of the fairway long, and short-sided himself in back of the 13th green. He missed a 15-foot putt for par for his first bogey.
His approach from out of the rough on 14 left him short-sided in a greenside bunker en route to bogey No. 2.
Then, on 15, he short-sided his approach and followed with a delicate shot out of thick rough that did not reach the green. He almost chipped in to save par, but the ball slid barely past.
“It’s mistakes you can’t” make, Koepka said. “I short-sided myself. If you’re going to miss here, you have to miss on the correct side.”
By the time the bogey string was over, he was 1 over for the day, four shots out of the lead and in comeback mode. Now, he’ll be facing a Sunday unlike his last two PGAs.
Last year, he went into the final round with a seven-shot lead and never let anyone near. In 2018, he came in with a two-shot lead over Adam Scott and ended up holding off Tiger Woods.
This time after he walked off the course trailing by 2, he made it clear he found neither the deficit nor that group clustered near the top of the leaderboard to be obstacles he couldn’t overcome.
“It’s just a comfort level,” Koepka said. “I feel very comfortable around the lead in the big events. … It should be a fun shootout.”