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Brooks Koepka holds a seemingly insurmountable seven-shot lead at PGA Championship

PGA Championship - Round Three
Brooks Koepka drives off the 17th tee during the third round of the PGA Championship on May 18. Koepka holds a seven-stroke lead heading into the final round.
(Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images)

The perception by many has been that Brooks Koepka’s approach to golf and life is as dull as the clothes he wore in Saturday’s third round of the PGA Championship.

Black and white.

This week is changing all of that.

In both the spoken analysis of his game and the way he has systematically sliced and diced what is supposed to be a stern test at Bethpage Black, Koepka is opening minds about who he is and how far he can go.

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“I don’t need a sports psychologist,” Koepka said firmly on Saturday evening on Long Island. “I’m pretty good at it. I know what I’m doing.”

He was talking about the highly focused approach he takes at major championships, in which he is certain to add to his lore Sunday by capturing a fourth of golf’s biggest titles in fewer than two years.

Unable to maintain a ridiculous, record-setting pace in tougher conditions in the third round, Koepka still managed to shoot even-par 70 and didn’t lose a single shot off a lead that stands at seven strokes.

At 12 under, Koepka would have to suffer an extraordinary collapse to not lift the Wanamaker Trophy for a second straight year, at a time when he also is the two-time defending champion of the U.S. Open. No one has ever owned that distinction.

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In the history of the PGA Tour, no player has lost a lead of more than six shots.

There are five players trailing Koepka who stand at five under. Only one of them — Dustin Johnson, who could manage only a third-round 69 despite six birdies — has seized a major before. Harold Varner III (67), Thailand’s Jazzy Janewattannond (67) and Luke List (69) haven’t won a tour event of any kind.

They might want to soak up how Koepka is pulling this off.

“It’s simpler than what guys think,” Koepka said. “Guys make the mistake of trying to figure out, when they get to a major, what’s going on, what’s different. It’s not. It’s just focus. It’s grind it out, suck it up and move on.”

Far easier said than done, of course, unless you’re Koepka, who insists that if you took his pulse rate on the first tee Sunday that it wouldn’t be much different if he was watching the tournament on his couch.

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“I’d say I’m pretty flat-lined most of the time, as you can tell,” he said with a grin.

He has most certainly taken most of the drama out of the tournament that figured to enjoy a raucous weekend, thanks to the New York fans.

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Xander Schauffle, tied for eighth at three under after he couldn’t make up much ground with a third-round 68, said what most are thinking:

“It’s been a weird week,” he said. “Every time you look up, you never feel like you’re gaining momentum or anything. You’re still 10 to 12 shots back. It’s sort of boring, to be completely honest.”

“I think,” Schauffele added, “the only guys having fun out there this week are Brooks and Ricky [Elliott, his caddie]. To their credit, they should be having a blast. It’s sort of like taking a nap or having a picnic here at Bethpage Black.”

Schauffele said the most impressive part of Koepka’s performance is how he backed up his confident outlook earlier in the week, including the idea that “double digits” in major wins was fully in his wheelhouse.

“He talked some [stuff] in the media room and he’s backed up every word of it,” Schauffele said. “As a competitor, I have the utmost respect for him. I think it’s awesome.

“People have doubted him. There’s a lot pressure. If you mess up, the media would have a frenzy from what he said. He’s not going to do that because he’s not affected by any of it He plays fearless golf.”

Koepka, who has held at least a share of the lead in seven of his last nine major rounds — he tied for second with Schauffele in this year’s Masters — admitted Saturday that his only let-up in the third round might have come on the greens, where he left some putts short while being cautious to not give himself more nervy comeback rolls.

There is no reason, he said, to stray away from that approach in the final round.

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“I feel confident going into [Sunday],” Koepka said. “If I can hit a few fairways, there’s really a couple of key holes out there. You play 7 well, play 10 and 12 well, and then from there, you just hit the center of the greens and try to par this place to death.”

Koepka might as well, since he’s already killed the buzz.


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