They should have changed that warning sign behind the first tee of the Black Course this week.
Make it, “The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for Brooks Koepka.”
With the winds up, Bethpage showed Koepka its teeth for the first time all week but the big guy continued strolling through Bethpage State Park, ending the third round of the PGA Championship with the same seven-shot lead he took into it. It’s the biggest 54-hole lead in PGA Championship history and in the 159-year history of the majors, no one has ever blown a seven-shot lead. No one in the field is better capable of playing this golf course, which is why there is no doubt in his mind that he will win this thing.
“No,” he said. “I feel confident. I feel good. I feel excited. I was excited just to get to the course today, and then try to build that lead, but it didn’t happen. Nothing different (tomorrow). I’m just going to try to play a good solid round of golf. I’m not going to let up. I can promise you that.”
In shooting an even-par 70, Koepka didn’t have his A-Game but while he was vexed a bit by the windy conditions, his brute strength got him out of trouble when he started finding the rough of the tee for the first time this week. Bethpage can’t throw much more at him that he can’t handle, and if it does, others won’t be able to handle it either.
“I think we’re all playing for second,” conceded Luke List, part of a four-way tie for second with Dustin Johnson, Harold Varner III and Jazz Janewattananod.
“This is a major championship and everyone is here to win but there’s only one guy who’s absolutely just destroying this place,” Xander Schauffele admitted. “So I’m sure he’s having a blast. But for the rest of us, he’s making it awfully boring.”
It’s been that way almost from the time Koepka drained a 35-footer for birdie on his first hole early Thursday. But what else is new here or at the U.S. Open, where he won last year at Shinnecock Hills. If Koepka finishes this off, he’ll be the first player to be the two-time defending champion in two majors, the PGA and the U.S. Open, not that he’s thinking about that.
“Every time you get in this position, you learn a little bit of whatever it might be going into the final day,” he said. “Obviously it’s nice to have a little bit of a seven-shot cushion, I feel very good, and I felt good at Shinnecock. It felt like all I had to do was get off to a good start, and I did that there. “I know tomorrow, if I can get off to a good start, guys got to push, and if you’re going to push on this golf course, you’re going to make mistakes. I just have to have the same mentality, focus on myself and not anybody else. I feel like I’m getting better and better at it.”
Anyone who was going to catch Koepka was going to have to play the last two rounds the way Koepka played the first two. Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, who started the day seven back, quickly faded and the person in the field who seemed most capable of putting some heat on him was his friend and workout partner, Dustin Johnson.
The long-hitting World No. 1 came out of the box fast by blasting his drive to within 80 yards and sticking a 64-degree wedge a few feet from the hole to get to 5-under. But the rest of his afternoon showed just why Koepka won’t be reined in.
DJ went out in 32 and was still seven shots back at the turn. Then, after recovering beautifully from a tee shot into the thick stuff, he missed a three-foot par putt and Koepka’s lead was back to eight. Johnson played aggressively all day, making six birdies. But five bogeys, including a final one at 18, kept him well back.
Meanwhile, Koepka got through his round with three birdies and three bogeys.
“I felt like I struck it better than I did yesterday. I just didn’t putt as well.” He said. “I left a couple putts short right in the middle. If I make those and shoot a couple under, I extend the lead.”
Not that it makes any difference. He has left everyone in awe, the way Tiger Woods once did.
“I’ve been talking to my friends about it and my coach and my caddie . . . this is not a golf course where in the practice rounds I would have told you anybody’s breaking any kind of record,” Tony Finau said. “This seemed like a U.S. Open setup. And outside of Brooks, the scores have been U.S. Open-ish. So it tells you how extremely impressive he’s been.