Koepka Delivers Knockout Blow to McIlroy's Hopes of Victory
IT WAS billed as a heavyweight clash between the two best golfers on the planet. In the end, had it been a boxing match, the referee would have stepped ins to stop the fight. Rory McIroy took a one-shot lead into the final round of the WGC FedEx St Jude Invitational, with world number one Brooks Koepka breathing down his neck. We were all licking our lips in anticipation of what seemed certain to be a classic duel in the Memphis sun.
Instead, Koepka, romped to a final round of 65 and a three-shot victory. And, in the end, McIlroy, had to settle for a share of fourth place after a disappointing 71. It was all a far cry from the magnificent 62 he had produced on Saturday. Koepka’s nearest challenger at TPC Southwind turned out to be fellow American Webb Simpson.
The 29-year-old Koepka was in control from the moment he made the first of five birdies at the third and he eventually cruised to a winning total of 16 under, 264. Australian Marc Leishman finished four shots off the lead, one clear of McIlroy and English duo Matthew Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood.
"It feels really good. I knew I had to make some putts and to catch up with Rory by nine would be big," Koepka said. "I played really solid. The goal was to make no bogeys and I came out bogey free so I'm really pleased. To win this title against Rory was pretty special.
"These last few years have been unbelievable. It's been an incredible run, been playing some good golf and I'm excited for what the future holds. I just learn every time I'm playing. I think people forget a lot that I had nine second place finishes in the last three years.
"Every time I come in second, I'm learning something, figuring it out, watching the guy win if I'm playing with him or trying to figure out how I can hit shots under pressure, where the misses are. I've done a good job of that over the last few years in really learning. I've kind of come into my own figuring out my game, especially under the gun."
Koepka got up and down to save par at the second and got up and down again for birdie on the par five third to join McIlroy at 12 under. He put an approach to five feet at the fifth to take the solo lead and a 20 foot putt on the next helped him lead by two at the turn. An approach to eight feet at the tenth put him three ahead and it was Simpson who was emerging as his closest competition. The 2012 U.S. Open Championship winner had holed from 27 feet for an eagle on the third and added a gain on the sixth but dropped a shot on the ninth to turn in 33.
Another long putt on the tenth had him back into double figures before he put his tee shot on the par three 11th to tap-in range and holed an eight footer on the 13th. An up-and-down from the sand on the 16th cut the lead to two as Simpson set the target with a 64 but Koepka put an approach to 12 feet at the 17th to re-establish his cushion.
Leishman started with nine pars but ignited his round with a hat-trick of birdies from the tenth in a 67. Fleetwood hit an excellent approach into the first and took advantage of the third but he bogeyed the fifth before picking the shot back up from ten feet on the ninth. A tee shot to ten feet on the 14th and up-and-down from the sand on the 16th then saw him sign for a 66.
A tap-in eagle at the 16th was the highlight of Fitzpatrick's 69 as he achieved his best WGC finish. Spaniard Jon Rahm signed for a 69 to finish at ten under, with England's Ian Poulter registering the same score to end his week a shot further back. Americans Billy Horschel and Bubba Watson were at eight under, a shot clear of World Number Four Justin Rose.
Rahm donated $23,000 to the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. The hospital was founded in 1962 and since then has worked tirelessly to prevent and cure children's cancer and other serious conditions.
The World Golf Championships may have been making its first trip to TPC Southwind this week but the US PGA Tour event played here has helped support the hospital since 1989. And Rahm decided to make his own contribution, donating $1,000 for every birdie and $5,000 for every eagle he made. After seeing his honorary young caddie from the hospital put the pin back on the 18th green, the Spaniard made his donation thanks to 18 birdies and an eagle over the four days.
The Spaniard made his donation thanks to 18 birdies and an eagle over the four days. "Any of the problems I'll ever have on a golf course are nothing, absolutely nothing compared to what some of those kids go through," he said. "To see their smile at least for five seconds taking care of the flag and people cheering for them, it's heartwarming, it's fun.
"I tried to get a smile out of him but he was a little bit nervous, too many people probably looking at him and too much attention, but he definitely had a little bit of a good time putting the flag in and walking around. It's all about that. It changed my attitude completely on 18, honestly.
"We're playing for a lot more than just ourselves this week. I always think it's important to give back. We have such a great tournament, such a great event thanks to the atmosphere that's created around this event and what we're playing for, that just giving back. It cost nothing to me, honestly. It's no effort and I'm just happy I can hopefully make somebody smile today."
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