Tour Confidential: Brooks Koepka’s heating up, Tiger Woods’ U.S. Open spot and more

brooks koepka tees off on a golf hole

Brooks Koepka won his fourth career LIV Golf event on Sunday, and he defends his U.S. Open title later this month.

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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf_com. This week, we discuss Brooks Koepka’s LIV Golf win, Tiger Woods’ U.S. Open exemption, Nelly Korda’s attempt at six straight wins and more.

Brooks Koepka won LIV Golf Singapore to become the league’s first player to four wins. But, more importantly, he seems to be peaking just in time for his PGA Championship defense at Valhalla that begins on May 16. Is an in-form Koepka the biggest major threat to World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler?

Josh Berhow, managing editor (@Josh_Berhow): I’ll give a confident Koepka the slight edge over a sharp Jon Rahm. And you know what? It would be really nice to have peak Koepka clicking at the PGA Championship, because we need a little competition for our World No. 1 to make it more interesting. I think Brooks is the best guy to do it. Scheffler and his wife are expecting their first child any day, so that could affect his PGA plans, but schedule-wise it should work out and he should be able to play.

Alan Bastable, executive editor (@alan_bastable): Koepka said he felt “embarrassed” after his poor showing at the Masters; he also said he apologized to his team. That week really got to him so I think there’s little to zero chance of that happening to him again at Valhalla. He’s too prideful a player to record back-to-back clunkers at the majors. And now that his game appears back in form? Watch out! I don’t know if he’s the most dangerous threat to Scheffler, but I don’t see anyone more dangerous. As Koepka said after his win Sunday, “the big thing that kind of separates me is my ability to lock in and go someplace where I think a lot of guys can’t go.”

Ryan Barath, senior equipment editor (@RDSBarath): I still believe Scottie has the edge, but when it comes to competition I feel there is something to playing against someone you don’t see every week. With that in mind, it could be a mental test for Scottie if Brooks comes out firing on Thursday and Friday come PGA week.

Nick Dimengo, instruction editor (@ndimengo): I think so. Brooks knows how to win on the biggest stage (especially at the PGA), and he’s always said his career will be measured in majors. There are others capable, but Brooks vs. Scottie just has so much appeal that I think (hope?) the golf gods make that a rivalry for fans.

The USGA awarded Tiger Woods a special exemption into the 2024 U.S. Open, marking just the second time the USGA has done so in the last five years (the other was Phil Mickelson in 2021). Woods’ exemption he received into the U.S. Open with his 2019 Masters win ran out last year (he essentially has lifetime exemptions in the other majors), meaning he would have had to go through qualifying or win a tournament that would have gained him entry beforehand to earn a spot. Any issue with Woods getting this nod?

Berhow: Absolutely not. He won three U.S. Opens, three U.S. Amateurs and three U.S. Juniors. For all of that, plus what he’s done for the game over the last three decades, he’s essentially earned the rare ability to ask into any event he wants.

Bastable: If Aaron Baddeley got one (in 2000!), I think we can all agree Tiger Woods is probably worthy. Heck, for what Woods has meant to golf, the guy should have lifetime entry to any tournament he wants to play. U.S. Open special invitees don’t have a great track record — 10 of the last 20 missed the cut and one withdrew — but there have been a few exceptions, including Nick Price’s T9 in 2005 and Nick Faldo’s T5 in 2002. And let’s not forget Hale Irwin. As an invitee at Medinah in 1990, Irwin beat Mike Donald in a playoff to win his third Open title. Cool stuff.

Barath: No issues here. I agree with Alan that Tiger sits in extremely rarified air and he should be given entry into any U.S. Open he feels so inclined to play simply based on his record and what he has meant to the game. Also, from a business perspective, the USGA would be silly not to invite one of the few golfers on the planet who can drive greater interest in the event regardless of where he finishes.

Dimengo: Nope, not at all. Regardless of my personal opinion, Tiger’s still the biggest draw in the sport, so anytime he’s a part of a major, it’s good for golf (and viewership).

Woods isn’t the first former U.S. Open winner to get a special exemption into the national championship (Jack Nicklaus received eight of these), but do you anticipate Woods continuing to receive them if he doesn’t qualify otherwise? And do you think he would continue to accept them?

Berhow: If he continues to need exemptions, I think he’ll receive several. He’s a very proud man, but I don’t see him turning them down anytime soon. At this stage of his career I think he’s realized he’s earned them for everything he’s accomplished, and he knows people want him there. For every person you hear who says golf telecasts waste too much time on his shots when he’s out of contention, there’s about 6,000 more on-site who are following every swing on every hole. It’s truly unlike anything else — the crowds he still generates compared to literally everyone else. Someday he’ll be done, and with his injury history his future is extremely unpredictable, and the sport will miss him dearly.

Bastable: I did not know Jack received eight! It’s hard to fathom Tiger accepting that many Open invites, because it’s hard to imagine Tiger being physically able to compete in that many more Opens — at least not at a level that he would demand of himself. But, yes, presumably as long as Tiger wants a bid, he’s going to get one. As he should. As Josh said, Woods instantly makes any field more interesting. That will never change.

Barath: As I previously stated, I think the USGA would be hard-pressed not to invite him. I also think that at this point in his career, Tiger still wants to show that he’s able to play at a high level, even if that means accepting a special exemption.

Dimengo: As Berhow said, Tiger’s a proud man, but he’s also a competitor who thinks he can legit compete in these major tournaments. It may be delusional, in my opinion, but if he’s invited to participate, take the gesture and see if magic happens!

The Cognizant Founders Cup begins Thursday at Upper Montclair Country Club, where World No. 1 Nelly Korda will attempt to win her sixth straight tournament. What’s your prediction? And where does this story rank among some of the LPGA’s biggest over the last several years?

Berhow: It’s probably the biggest story since Lydia Ko stormed onto the scene. Ko won six times before she even turned 18 (her seventh win came two days after her 18th birthday). And Ko’s five-win 2015 — when she was 17 and 18 years old — included her first major title, the Evian, when she became the youngest major winner in LPGA history. And yet Korda’s run seems so much bigger. Regardless if she wins or not, I can’t wait to see how many victories she piles up this year. The season is still just getting started!

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Bastable: Six straight would be staggering, just as five straight was, and four and three. So many things can derail a victory in golf — a lip-out, a plugged lie, another playing shooting 63 on Sunday to beat you — which is why, no matter a player’s form, it’s so hard to win in consecutive starts. But six straight? My mind can’t process that. We’ve probably surpassed the point of Korda-vs.-the-field being an even-money bet. But whatever the odds, keep giving me Nelly until someone proves they can beat her.

Barath: A smart gambler once told me that you don’t bet on golf or hockey, because one odd bounce can derail a win — and no, I’m not bitter about how the Toronto Maple Leafs lost Game 7 — but considering her form, Nelly is likely to contend. Does that mean she’s going to win? You know what, let’s bet on history and say that she does it! As for what this means for the LPGA Tour — I agree with Josh that the only bigger stories the LPGA has experienced over the last few years were Lydia Ko, and then Rose Zhang winning her first event as a pro.

Dimengo: What Nelly is doing is nothing short of incredible. To win two tournaments in a row is tough — and she’s attempting to do three times that! So it’s a story that more people should be talking about, and it’s kind of sad that they aren’t. As for predictions, anytime it’s an individual vs. the field, I’ll always take the latter. Just one day (or, hell, one bad hole!) can derail a person’s entire tournament. While Nelly typically avoids self-imposed mistakes, it happens to the best of them, so I’ll take the field this week.

Bandon Dunes, the groundbreaking Oregon resort, celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. How important has its evolution been for golf and golf travel? And, bonus question: What’s your favorite course there?

Berhow: The Bandon model is so refreshing. While it’s not for everyone — if your group likes six-packs stashed in your cart, this isn’t for you — it’s proven to be an important piece of golf’s evolution and essentially the realization that you don’t need all the bells and whistles on your golf trips. Just really, really good golf, delightfully unpredictable weather, a cozy pub and cold pint does the trick. There’s lots of fun ways to do golf travel, and this is just one of the many great options that’s gone on to influence others. Oh, and Pacific Dunes is my favorite. The unorthodox design and collection of par-3s are wonderful.

Bastable: Bandon’s impact cannot be overstated: the resort’s success birthed the destination-golf movement that brought us other exceptional remote golf experiences such as Cabot Links and Sand Valley. I lucked into an invite to Bandon’s 25th anniversary celebration this past week. I’d been out there on previous occasions, but on this trip the distinctiveness of the property’s seven courses (five regulation, two short) really hit me. The splendor of Pac Dunes, the rawness of Sheep Ranch, the inventiveness and quirk of Old Mac and on and on. Each course is unmistakable from the next, which is why if you ask 10 golfers to rank their favorite Bandon courses in order, you might well get 10 different lists. I’m a sucker for ocean views so Pac Dunes and Bandon would probably top my own list, but ask me again tomorrow. Berhow, we played Old Mac in heavy wind and torrential rain, and I can report that there was nothing “delightful” about those conditions.

Berhow: Well, that’s true. We couldn’t see some of the greens from the fairway in that fog!

Barath: I think Bandon has proven that if you build great golf, golfers will seek it out, and their commitment to constantly improving the product with new courses keeps golfers coming back. It has also been an inspiration for others who have added to the golf landscape – most noticeably Cabot and its collection of properties that continues to grow. As for my favorite course — I’ll hold any judgment until I finally get the chance to get there and play. (Does anybody need a fourth?)

Dimengo: It’s a sin to say this as a PNWer, but I’ve still yet to play Bandon. I know, what am I actually doing with my life, right? That said, the entire resort remains a destination for golfers of all skill levels and continues to be the standard for links-style courses in the U.S.

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