Brooks Koepka powers ahead at waterlogged PGA Championship

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Brooks Koepka squandered a golden opportunity for a fifth major title last month at the Masters. After mudding his way through some comparable circumstances Saturday, he has a chance to rectify what he dubbed a “choke” at Augusta.

For the second straight day, Koepka led the field at the PGA Championship with a 4-under-par 66 to grab the third-round lead Saturday at a rain-drenched Oak Hill Country Club.

Koepka carded five birdies and just one bogey on a day when only nine players broke par. He hammered home a 47-foot birdie putt at No. 17 in order to get to 6-under 204.

The crowd at No. 17 roared for Koepka as loudly as some fans booed him and playing partner Bryson DeChambeau when they teed off at No. 1.

“I love New York. It’s always fun,” Koepka said. “Like I said, you do something really well, they are going to let you know, and if you do something pretty poor, they are going to let you know, and I just love that.”

Koepka overtook Corey Conners of Canada and Viktor Hovland of Norway, who shared the lead with Scottie Scheffler entering the day. Late mistakes held Conners and Hovland at 5 under for the championship, each carding even-par 70. DeChambeau also shot 70 to remain in fourth at 3 under.

Scheffler bogeyed four of his first seven holes and didn’t get a birdie to drop until No. 14 en route to a 73. He slipped to 2 under, tied for fifth with Justin Rose of England (69). Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland had an up-and-down 69 to move into seventh at 1 under.

Nearly 0.9 inches of rain fell at Oak Hill, mostly between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. local time, making everyone’s rounds a slog but particularly affecting those who played early. Englishman Tommy Fleetwood’s 68 was the low round for most of the day until Koepka polished off his 66.

Koepka led the Masters through three rounds after surviving sloppy weather conditions on Friday and Saturday, similar to what players faced at Oak Hill. But he shot a final-round 75 and yielded to eventual champion Jon Rahm of Spain.

The 33-year-old, who won the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships, believes he figured out what went wrong at the Masters. The main takeaway was “to just never think the way I thought going into the final round,” Koepka said Saturday.

“Learning what I learned at Augusta kind of helped today,” Koepka said. “Like I said, I won’t do it again the rest of my career. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t go play bad — you can play good, you’ll play bad, but I’ll never have that mindset or that won’t ever be the reason (I lose).”

A Koepka victory Sunday would mark the first time an active player for LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded upstart league, won on one of golf’s four major stages. DeChambeau, Koepka’s onetime rival and fellow LIV defector, could also achieve that feat.

Conners and Hovland, meanwhile, have contended at majors before but are trying to win their first.

Conners, 31, knocked in a 9-footer at the par-3 15th for his second birdie of the day, making him the first player to reach 7 under this week. But he gave it back at the par-4 16th in ugly fashion.

Conners’ attempt to get out of a fairway bunker barely left the ground, hitting the face of the bunker in front of him and plugging there. He was given a free drop but his third shot went from rough to rough. The ensuing double-bogey 6 ruined what would have been the only bogey-free round of the day.

“We had a laugh about it, really,” Conners said. “It was an unfortunate situation and a poor shot. Didn’t really affect the last few holes.”

Hovland, 25, could have tied Koepka at 6 under but landed in a greenside bunker at No. 18 and blasted out way past the hole, leading to a finishing bogey.

Hovland had recovered from two early bogeys by birdieing Nos. 8, 11 and 12 to tie the lead. He put intense backspin on his approach shot at the par-4 12th and watched his ball whiz past the cup before converting birdie.

“The mindset (Sunday) is just going to be, I play my own game, and obviously I want to win, but I am just going to play what I think is the right play on every single shot,” said Hovland, who tied for seventh at the Masters and tied for fourth at the Open Championship last July.

“And if I get beat, I get beat, but the plan is to not give it away.”

PGA professional Michael Block made three birdies on the back nine to shoot his third consecutive even-par 70 and was tied for eighth with Justin Suh (73). He is expected to play with McIlroy on Sunday.

Block, the head pro at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club in Mission Viejo, Calif., could become the first club pro to finish in the top 20 at a PGA Championship since 1990. The last to finish inside the top 10 at the PGA was 50 years ago — when a 61-year-old Sam Snead, retired from the tour, competed as a club professional.

–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media

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