Saturday 17 August 2019

Cool Koepka strengthens his grip with seven-shot lead

Brooks Koepka plays his shot from the 18th tee during the second round of the 2019 PGA Championship. Photo: Getty
Brooks Koepka plays his shot from the 18th tee during the second round of the 2019 PGA Championship. Photo: Getty

Brian Keogh

Brooks Koepka remained on track for an incredible fourth Major win in eight starts when he raced into a commanding seven-shot lead at halfway in the US PGA at Bethpage Black.

Brooks Koepka remained on track for an incredible fourth Major win in eight starts when he raced into a commanding seven-shot lead at halfway in the US PGA at Bethpage Black.

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The Floridian (29) followed his opening 63 with a five-under 65 to lead by seven shots from Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott on 12-under par as Graeme McDowell shot a 72 to lead the Irish challenge on two-over and Shane Lowry fired a 69 to sneak in on the four-over cut mark, a shot adrift of Rory McIlroy.

It was another imperious performance from Koepka, who shot out of the gates in impressive fashion, reeling off birdies at the first, second and fourth to get to 10-under to tighten his grip on the Wanamaker Trophy

He made his first bogey of the week at the tough 10th hole but responded in devastating fashion for the field with birdies at the 13th, 15th and 16th before following a bogey at the 17th with a birdie from 10 feet at the last.

"If he wins this one, that's four out of eight," said Lowry, who had to make made a clutch birdie from eight feet at the 17th to get back to the cut mark, then parred the last for a 69 that left him o a shot behind McIlroy who came back from a five-over after three holes to salvage a 71.

"That's like Tiger Woods of early 2000 stuff," Lowry said. "I don't understand how people leave him out of the conversation anymore. I think right now, he's obviously the best in the world."

The Offaly man started the day tied for 112th after a first round 75, but he slowly clawed his way towards the top 70 and ties.

After rolling home a 25-footer for birdie at the sixth, he bogeyed the 16th but then produced a gutsy finish, hitting a seven iron to eight feet at the 17th to set up a key birdie.

"Yeah, I played lovely," Lowry said. "To be honest I probably should have shot a better score the way I played. But look, I did a lot of damage yesterday. Three-putting the ninth hole yesterday was a killer, my final hole, from eight feet, it was disappointing.

"I said to the boys, there's nothing you can do, just go out and try to shoot the best score I can. I did. I played nice. When you break 70 around here, it's always a good day."

As Tiger Woods slithered to a disappointing 73 to miss the cut on five-over, Spieth made 141-feet of putts in a four-under 66 to take the early lead on five-under-par

Scott looked set to overtake the Texan when he holed from outside 20 feet for birdies at his first three holes, then picked up further birdies at the fifth, 11th, 13th and 14th.

The 2013 Masters champion needed to play the last four holes in one-under to shoot an eight-under 62 and match the Major championship scoring record set by Branden Grace at Royal Birkdale two years ago.

But he missed from inside three feet for par at the 17th before parring the last for a 64 that left him tied with Spieth on five-under.

Daniel Berger, Dustin Johnson, Kelly Kraft, Mat Wallace and Luke List shared fourth place on four-under, eight off the pace.

"I think I'm probably 90 per cent back to where I was at my best," Spieth said of his putting resurgence. "I feel as good or better 15 feet and in. I feel like I'm where I should be."

McDowell was pleased to make the cut and pour more confidence into his game, explaining: "This game is it all about confidence. We know that. We see these guys go on streaks where they win tournaments and they just kick on.

"A guy like Brooks, he's just playing on pure confidence and pure momentum right now, and that's what I'm building right now, you know, the snowball effect.

"The snowball isn't very big right now but as I continue to play, continue to play solid rounds of golf on the biggest stages, I feel the confidence will continue to grow."

McIlroy produced a scintillating charge on his back nine, recovering from dropping five shots in his first three holes by coming home in 31 for a 71 that left him on three-over.

But it was a week to forget for Pádraig Harrington, who followed a 75 with a 77 to miss the cut comfortably on 12-over par.

The Dubliner was disappointed with his preparation for a major test and plans to pull out all the stops over the next two weeks to be ready for the Canadian Open.

"I'd give myself a Z for preparation," Harrington said. "It was very, very poor and it got shown up. At 47 years of age, you'd think I'd know better. The only good thing is that sometimes you need to be taught a lesson to get motivated to do the right things."

He feels like a man only starting his season and with two weeks off to come, he plans to work hard to be ready for the RBC Canadian Open rather than thinking ahead to The Open at Royal Portrush.

"It's like it's January for me," he said. "My game was well and truly mixed up this week. It doesn't catch up with you at a normal event but you come to a big event like this, and it does catch up with you."

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