By DOUG FERGUSON
PITTSFORD, N.Y. — All those injuries that made Brooks Koepka wonder if he was still among golf’s elite were put to rest Sunday at Oak Hill when he beat the strongest field of the year and won the PGA Championship for his fifth major title.
Determined as ever to restore his reputation as the player to beat in the majors, Koepka ran off three quick birdies early, never lost the lead amid a gritty fight from Viktor Hovland and closed with a 3-under 67 for a two-shot victory.
He won his third Wanamaker Trophy — only Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen with five and Tiger Woods with four have won the PGA Championship more time — and capture his first major in four years.
And to think a year ago Koepka was so wounded he felt he couldn’t compete, a decision that might have led to him leaving the PGA Tour for Saudi-funded LIV Golf.
In the Netflix series “Full Swing,” he was quoted as saying confidence had given way to doubt. “I’m going to be honest with you, I can’t compete with these guys week in and week out.”
He looked as powerful as ever and left little doubt with his two-shot win over hard-luck Hovland (68) and Scottie Scheffler, who closed with a 65 and returned to No. 1 in the world.
“To look back to where we were two years ago, I’m so happy right now,” Koepka said. “This is just the coolest thing.”
Koepka had to share the loudest cheers with California club pro Michael Block, who put on an amazing show over four days. Block made a hole-in-one on the 15th hole while playing with Rory McIlroy, and then made two tough par putts at the end for a fourth straight 70.
He tied for 15th, giving him a return date to the PGA Championship last year.
“The most surreal moment I’ve ever had in my life,” Block said. “I’m living a dream and making sure I’m enjoying the moment. Not getting any better than this — no way in hell.”
The fifth major for Koepka might have been the sweetest of all considering the scrutiny of pedestrian play brought on my injuries and his decision to join LIV Golf, where he has won two times.
A month ago at the Masters, Koepka lost a two-shot lead in the final round by playing tentatively and was overrun by Jon Rahm. He vowed he would not do that again, and Koepka delivered in a major way, just like he used to.
Hovland made it easy for him at the end. Koepka was one shot ahead on the 16th hole when Hovland hit his 9-iron from a bunker that plugged into the lip in front of him — the same shot that stopped Corey Conners on Saturday — and made double bogey.
Koepka gouged out a shot from the rough to 5 feet for birdie and suddenly was leading by four shots when Hovland made double bogey.
The victory moves Koepka to No. 2 in the Ryder Cup standings. The top six automatically qualify, and it would be hard to fathom leaving Koepka off the American team. He can only early points in the majors, and two more are still to come.
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