Brooks Koepka Storms Back to Winning Form in Phoenix
DUSTIN JOHNSON looks determined to make the Saudi International his own personal property after seeing off the challenge of Tony Finau, Victor Perez and Justin Rose to win by two shots.
The world No1 also took the title in 2019 and was runner-up to Graeme McDowell 12 months ago. He clearly likes this part of the world.
He carded a closing 68 at Royal Greens Golf and Country club to finish on 15 under par, and the bad news for his rivals is that he barely holed a putt of any significance during all four rounds. But his golf from tee to green was stellar.
“Conditions when we started were really tough,” Johnson said. “I knew I was hitting it well, I saw the leaderboard and I knew the guys were playing well.
“I kept giving myself chances - I didn't hole any of them but I hit good shots and I finally holed a really nice putt on 13 and from there on I played solid.”
Johnson's victory strengthens his position at the top of the rankings and he added: “I just couldn't hole any putts. Just the reads, I'd see it going left to right it would go right to left; I'd see it going right to left it would go left to right. It was tough all day today.“I don't get to play around the world as much as I'd like to and it'sdefinitely nice to get a win not on my tour.
"After Augusta to get my first win, the game's still in really good form and I'm looking forward to the rest of the year.”
Johnson started the day with a two shot lead over Perez, but saw that advantage halved by the time they had reached the turn. Johnson missed a six footer for eagle on the fourth and the subsequent tap-in proved to be his only gain on the front nine before he missed birdie chances from six feet at the tenth and 12th.
A hat-trick of birdies from the 11th saw Finau join his compatriot at the top of the leaderboard and at that stage the longest putt Johnson had made all day was from five feet. However, he drained an 11 footer for birdie at the 13th to edge back in front.
Perez had been progressing patiently and a fine approach to six feet on the 15th saw him join Finau one adrift of the leader.
But Finau three putted the 16th to drop two back, although Johnson and Perez in the group behind also found problems on the par three. The Frenchman hit his tee shot into a swale to the right of the green and, after pitching through the putting surface, ran up a double bogey to end his challenge. Johnson failed to get up and down from a greenside bunker but, after Finau had bogeyed the 17th attempting to force the issue, Johnson produced a magnificent drive on the same hole to leave a simple up and down for birdie.
Finau was a whisker away from holing out from the sand for an eagle at the last, while Johnson found a bunker off the tee and almost picked out another trap with his lay-up. However, once his ball settled on the fairway he was able to pitch to the middle of the green and two-putt for the win. Rose made five birdies in a flawless closing 65, while Perez missed a birdie chance on the last to finish alongside Scotland's Calum Hill in fourth.
Brooks Koepka proved that form is temporary but class is permanent when he put 18 months of misery behind him to win the Waste Phoenix Management Open by a shot thanks to a final round of 65. And the American admitted that there had been times when he wondered if he would ever hoist a trophy aloft again.
"There was a period where I just questioned whether I was ever going to be the same, whether I was even going to be somewhat remotely the same golfer that I ever was.” he said after beating Xander Schauffele and Kyoung-Hoon Lee.
Schauffele was chasing his first victory in over two years and then there was Jordan Spieth trying to win for the first time in three-and-a-half years but having to settle for a tie for fourth place.
Koepka secured his eighth PGA Tour title and moved him from 73rd to 12th in the FedExCup. After battling a left knee injury for much of the past 18 months, he’s finally 100% fit.
It did not start well, with Koepka taking a bogey at the second hole. But he made two eagles and played the final six holes in five under par for the second day on the trot as he overcame a five-shot deficit, and won for the first time since the 2019 World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
“It feels like it’s been forever,” he said after collecting his second Waste Management Phoenix Open title and ending a streak of three straight missed cuts.
Steve Stricker, who at 53 was vying to become the oldest-ever Tour winner, played with Koepka. He will captain the US Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits later this year, and will be delighted to see the four-time major winner back in form. Stricker shot a 67 and finished in a tie for fourth.
“I catch myself though rooting for guys like Brooks and then I've got to pull myself back and say, Wait a second, I'm trying to win this thing, too,” Stricker said. “I want to see him play well because I think he can be a huge help to this team in September.”
Part of what Koepka did well, Stricker added, was simply hang around. After making an eagle at the par-five third hole, he made nine straight pars to set up his big finish. The biggest shot of that stretch was his chip-in for eagle at the par-four 17th hole.
This event is normally played in front of more than 700,000 fans over the course of the week - this time the numbers were limited to 5,000 per day.
“It’s nice to play in front of fans,” Koepka said. “I mean, every time I played well it's been in front of fans. I struggle with no fans. I can't get the energy. There is nothing.”
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