FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The 101st PGA Championship would probably be one heck of a golf tournament — if Brooks Koepka wasn’t here.
Koepka will carry the largest 36-hole lead in a major in 84 years into the third round at Bethpage Black on Saturday.
After following up his record-setting 63 with a 5-under 65 on Friday, Koepka holds a seven-shot advantage over everyone else in the field.
That’s the biggest lead in a major championship since Henry Cotton had a nine-shot advantage in the 1934 Open Championship. It’s also the biggest lead in PGA Championship history.
Here’s the scariest part: Koepka insists he wasn’t on top of his game on Friday. That’s probably why he was back on the range Friday night, after posting the lowest 36-hole total in major championship history at 128.
“This probably sounds bad, but [Friday’s second round] was a battle,” Koepka said. “I didn’t strike it that good. I was leaking a few to the right. The way I hung in there and battled it, I think that was probably more impressive than [the first round], not having your A-game but still being able to shoot a great score. I was very, very pleased with the way I played [on Friday].”
Can anyone catch Koepka over the final two rounds this weekend? It seems highly unlikely.
In fact, it seems more likely that Koepka widens his lead. When Tiger Woods won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes, he was 8 under through 36 holes with a six-shot lead. Koepka is already 12-under with a seven-shot advantage.
“What Brooksy did, he’s driving it 330 yards in the middle of the fairway,” said Woods, who played the first two rounds with Koepka. “He’s got 9-irons when most of us are hitting 5-irons, 4-irons, and he’s putting well. That adds up to a pretty substantial lead, and if he keeps doing what he’s doing, there’s no reason why he can’t build on this lead.”
With two rounds to play, it’s probably too early to say it’s over, but let’s be honest: It would take a complete collapse for Koepka not to win his second straight PGA championship. And that’s unlikely from a player who is a whopping 30 under in his past seven rounds in PGA Championships.
“If he doesn’t have a hot day tomorrow, the gap narrows and there’s pressure over whatever lead he might have or might not on Sunday. I know he’s won three majors. I know he seems impenetrable at the moment in this position, but at some point he’s got to think about it.”
Here are the top players who will be trying to chase Koepka down — or praying that he somehow comes back to the field — this weekend on Long Island:
Is the slump finally over for the three-time majors champion? Spieth hasn’t won since The Open in July 2017 and hasn’t had a top 10 since The Open in 2018. Heck, Spieth hasn’t had a top-20 finish in 13 PGA Tour events this season and has missed the cut three times.
But after firing a 4-under 66 to move to 5 under through 36 holes, Spieth might be a major factor on the weekend, as he tries to compete the career grand slam for the third time by winning the PGA Championship.
Of course, one of Spieth’s problems this season has been his play on moving day, with only two sub-70 scores in the third round in 10 events. He ranks 193rd in third-round scoring and 208th in fourth among Tour players.
But after struggling with his game for much of the past two seasons, Spieth seems to be playing with much more confidence. He is still spraying his driver a bit, hitting only 15 of 28 fairways through the first two rounds, but he is scrambling and putting well. He needed only 23 putts on Friday.
Heading into the 15th hole on Friday, Scott had an opportunity to break Koepka’s course record of 63 (set on Thursday) and possibly challenge the low round for a major championship, a 62 by Branden Grace at the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale.
But after posting birdies on seven of his first 14 holes, Scott three-putted from 22 feet for bogey on the par-3 17th and knocked his tee shot into the deep rough en route to par on 18.
If the Australian can regain his touch on the greens — he made more than 165 feet on 26 putts on Friday — he could make a move this weekend.
It’s no secret that Johnson and Koepka are close friends and extremely competitive, and no one has more power to challenge Koepka at Bethpage than DJ. Through 36 holes, Johnson leads the field in driving distance with a 308.3-yard average off the tee.
With a 3-under 67 on Friday, Johnson posted his seventh straight round in the 60s in a major — only Koepka has more.
“I feel like I’m in a good position,” Johnson said. “I’m happy with where I’m at no matter what the lead is after [Friday]. I’m going to be somewhere around it or close enough to where with 36 holes left, I’m OK.”
Johnson would probably be closer if not for his putter. He needed 62 putts through 36 holes and made only six putts longer than 5 feet. He started the second round on No. 10 and had five birdies on the back nine — the most by any player in a major at Bethpage Black — but then went 1 over in the final 10 holes.
Berger and Koepka grew up near each other in South Florida and played together for one season at Florida State.
Berger missed about four months after injuring his wrist last season. But he is back in form, and he fired a 4-under 66 in the second round on Friday.
He doesn’t hit it as far as Koepka — Berger is tied for 76th in driving distance after 36 holes — but he is accurate off the tee and scrambles well.
Berger has enjoyed success in majors in the past, as well. He finished tied for sixth at the 2018 U.S. Open at nearby Shinnecock Hills and tied for 12th in the PGA Championship at Bellerive two months later.
The former world No. 1 fired a 3-under 67 on Friday, which is a nice recovery after missing the cut at the Masters in April.
Rose is seeking his elusive second major championship — he won the 2013 U.S. Open — but a nine-shot deficit to Koepka is probably too much to overcome in two rounds.