In their ultimate show of their bro togetherness, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson hit the gym before nearly every round when they’re in the same golf tournaments.
That includes majors, and Koepka and Johnson had the good fortune of being able to hit the weights Saturday morning instead of grinding through holes left over from the PGA Championship’s rain-delayed second round at Bellerive Country Club.
In a fine mood after he’d scored four-under-par 66 and seized a two-shot lead after the third round, Koepka recalled the scene from hours earlier.
“Today I was in there with Dustin and everybody wanted a picture with Dustin,” Koepka said. “They were talking about him as we left, and I was just standing there laughing.
“They were, like, did you see the No. 1 player in the world was here? I don’t know what to say to that.”
Here’s a comeback: How many majors has he won?
Koepka has yet to take hold in the average sports fan’s consciousness, but that seems destined to change if he prevails Sunday to win a third major — to Johnson’s one — in a little more than a year.
It would be plain ignorant to brush aside the 28-year-old from Florida joining Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players to win a U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year.
Koepka, who has only one non-major victory on the PGA Tour, already reached rare territory in June when he became only the third player since World War II to capture back-to-back U.S. Opens.
Intense and hardly flashy, Koepka has simply become one of the game’s most complete players, and his confidence is soaring. He has found Bellerive to his liking, and overpowered the course in getting to a 12-under total that put him two shots clear of Adam Scott (65) and three ahead of Jon Rahm (66), Rickie Fowler (69), and Gary Woodland (71).
To win this one, Koepka will have to stave off one of the most star-studded groups of contenders in recent major history.
Among the six players tied at eight under, five have won majors, including perhaps the hungriest man of all, Tiger Woods, who has inserted himself into the final-round mix for a second straight major.
Woods vaulted up the leaderboard with a pair of 66s by playing 29 holes Saturday — 11 from the rain-delayed second round and the entire third round.
“I’m just focused on me,” Koepka said. “It feels like, if I do what I’m supposed to do, I should win the golf tournament. Yeah, there’s a lot of star power, and there should be — it’s a major championship. You should see the best players in the world come to the top. And that’s what’s going to make this event very exciting to watch.”
Koepka had a chance Saturday to be Mr. Buzzkill, briefly forging a five-shot lead. But then he killed his own buzz by suffering bogeys off wayward drives at 14 and 15. That was the first time he had faltered since suffering a double bogey on his sixth hole in the first round.
He recovered well — indicative of how he has managed Bellerive. Koepka missed the green on the par-three 16th, but made a lengthy putt to save par. And he once again hammered two shots to reach the green in two on the par-five 17th, where he two-putted for birdie.
In a show of his all-around strengths, Koepka is second in the field in driving distance and eighth in strokes gained putting. The soft Bellerive fairways have given Koepka the confidence to use driver on most holes without the fear of his ball running through to the rough.
“I like the way I’m hitting the ball,” Koepka said. “I’m putting much better, and my short game’s on point this week. So when all those add up, I could see why I played so well.”
Still, Koepka only needed to look at the struggles of his third-round playing partner, Woodland, to know that fortunes can change quickly.
Woodland, who reached a PGA record 10-under through two rounds, had been extremely comfortable on Bellerive. But he suffered two bad lapses in scoring a one-over 71.
He dunked his approach shot in the water at the par-four second hole. And in a bizarre circumstance at the par-four 10th, Woodland made a triple bogey when he blasted a bunker shot over the green. He skulled his next shot back into the same bunker, which had not been raked. From a bad lie in footprint, he barely escaped and eventually made 7.
It should be remembered that, at 34, Woodland has yet to win a major, or even contend very often.
Koepka is a becoming a major beast. In his last 16 starts in the big four, he has two wins and four other top-six finishes.
“I can really tune in the majors,” Koepka said. “I have no idea why. They really get my attention.”
Now he just needs to get the fans’ attention.