Eagles lift Koepka to PGA Phoenix Open victory
Brooks Koepka of the United States poses with the trophy after winning the the Waste Management Phoenix Open. AFP
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka grabbed two eagles -- including a chip-in at the 17th hole -- to win the Phoenix Open for his first US PGA Tour title since 2019.
Koepka returned to the winner's circle at the same TPC Scottsdale course where he won the first of his eight US PGA Tour titles back in 2015, posting a six-under par 65 for a 19-under total of 265.
He finished one stroke in front of South Korean Lee Kyoung-hoon, who carded a 68, and American Xander Schauffele, who shared the overnight lead but settled for an even-par 71 and his eighth runner-up finish since his last win in January of 2019.
Koepka, who rose to number one in the world on the strength of four major titles over 2017, 2018 and 2019, battled through a 2020 season disrupted not only by the coronavirus pandemic but als by nagging knee and hip injuries that prevented him from playing the PGA Tour playoffs and the delayed US Open at Winged Foot in September.
"It has been a wild ride for the last year and a half and very frustrating," said Koepka, an often taciturn competitor who acknowledged he'd had some "dark moments."
"I've had moments where I didn't know if I was going to be the same, if I could even come back," he said.
Although he hadn't scored well in two prior 2021 starts, Koepka said he felt his game was coming around.
He put himself in striking distance of 54-hole leaders Schauffele and Jordan Spieth with four birdies to close his third round, and bounced back from a bogey at the 12th on Sunday with his first eagle of the day -- a 24-footer at the third.
Birdies at 13, 14 and 15 put him in a tie for the lead at 17-under.
And he leaped to the top of the board with his eagle at the short par-four 17th, where his chip from 97 feet out took a couple of hops and rolled into the center of the cup.
"I felt like the chip, if I just caught it right in the fringe it was going to check up on me, and it did perfectly.
"Took a nice little right kick for me, and didn't look anywhere else but the hole.
"Hell of a week," added Koepka, who like all in the field relished the presence of 5,000 fans a day -- the most at a PGA Tour event since the coronavirus pandemic exploded.
It was a far cry from the norm for a tournament that usually attracts some 700,000 over the course of the week, but it was enough for Koepka to enjoy a rousing cheer when his eagle landed at 17.
"I've missed fans," Koepka said. "Just being around fans is something else. I love it."
Lee learned a lot
Lee had four birdies with one bogey in his three-under round, but left himself a 33-footer at 18 to try to match Koepka and force a playoff.
He couldn't get it to drop, but said he'll take away plenty of positives from his week. "I learned a lot of things this week," he said. "Hopefully another week when I get a chance I will win after that."
Spieth and Schauffele started the day sharing a three-shot lead but neither could end his dry spell.
Schauffele had two bogeys before his first birdie at the ninth. He birdied 15 and 16 but found the water at 17 on the way to a bogey so his closing birdie left him one back.
Spieth, who hasn't won since capturing his third major title at the 2017 British Open, couldn't match the third-round 61 that thrust him to the top of the leaderboard.
He carded a one-over 72 that left him sharing fourth on 17-under with Mexico's Carlos Ortiz and US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker, who at 53 was trying to break Sam Snead's record as the oldest player to win a PGA Tour title.