Maybe we should have seen it coming. Brooks Koepka, with his knee and form in question, is back to being Brooks Koepka the week before a major championship that Brooks Koepka is defending.
OK, so maybe he’s not all the way back. At least not yet. And no no, he didn’t win the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational on Sunday. Justin Thomas did that. But we did see enough of the good Koepka in Memphis to overlook some of the bad Koepka that cost him the tournament. This T2 was his best finish in a year.
The good: His Strokes Gained: Tee to Green numbers through three rounds (9.784) were his best ever through 54 holes of a non-major, and he led the field in SG: Approach (8.436) for the week. He had the solo lead on the back nine of TPC Southwind on Sunday and was tied with Thomas for the co-lead through 15 holes.
The bad: His first biggest mistake of the day (by inches) came on the 16th. His chip flew a touch too far and didn’t check up in time, rolling off the green and leading to a bogey. (“I thought I hit a good chip,” he said.) Thomas, playing in the group ahead, birdied the 16th, making it a two-shot swing. It was all but over. But then…
The good: Koepka birdied 17! It was an unlikely one, too, finding the green through some trees from an approach in the rough, leading to a 40-foot bomb to cut the lead to one. Meanwhile, Thomas was in trouble after a drive in the right rough on the difficult par-4 finisher.
The bad: Koepka, one back on the 18th tee, made his second biggest mistake. He took an aggressive line on the dogleg left hole and found the water. He made double and tied for second, three behind Thomas.
It was a roller coaster final few holes for Koepka, who lost about a half million dollars with his double on 18, but consider the positives based on where we was five days ago.
In a Wednesday press conference, the 30-year-old fielded questions about his knee (still an issue), his training (he can’t run), his confidence (still there), and this frustrating stretch he’s been on. Entering this week, he had zero wins since this event last year, one top 25 in 10 starts and four missed cuts. He missed three cuts in the previous two seasons combined.
The majors, which we haven’t had since last July, have never been a problem for Koepka though. They are his calling card. The numbers don’t lie: T4, 2, 1, T2, 1, T39, 1, T13, T6, 1, T11, T4. Now he’s off to TPC Harding Park, where he’s the defending champion. He said this week was the best he’s hit it since last year’s PGA at Bethpage.
“Everything’s moving in the right direction,” Koepka said Sunday. “So once you lose — doesn’t matter if it was by one or 10 — it doesn’t matter. So pleased with it, moving in the right direction and looking forward to next week.”
As for his chances come next Sunday? Let’s go back to that aforementioned Wednesday press conference.
“I’m defending, aren’t I?,” he said, answering a question about his confidence during his slump. The reporter told him yes, he was, in fact, defending. “OK. Just checking.”
Monday begins a major week. Koepka is going for the three-peat.