For the most fleeting of seconds, Brooks Koepka’s robotic armour looked to have finally been breached. After another imperious start, flushed with birdies and jet-plane drives, his birdie putt on the ninth raced two feet past the hole. Moments later, the rungs of New Yorkers packed around the green gasped in unison and rubbed their eyes out of sheer disbelief as his ball horseshoed out of the hole for only his third bogey of the week. In 45 holes, on a golf course that’s strangled the will of all this week’s grieving competitors, golf’s stone-faced metronome had blinked for the first time.
On the tenth, still struggling to programme the horror of what had just occurred, Koepka’s drive trickled into the rough, his approach snagged in the long grass shielding the bunker and after a heavy-handed chip, another bogey followed. Suddenly, the chatter was charged on megaphone. “Surely not,” came the baffled murmurs from crowd and commentary.
But then it was over. An angry swat that split the centre of the following fairway, the steady flight resumed as Koepka continued his relentless march to what now seems an inevitable victory. If this was to be his greatest patch of turbulence, the creeping period of rocksteady angst that’s supposed to unravel someone in a high-profile event, perhaps it’s apt they were dealt with in such a clinical, blasé and ultimately anti-climactic fashion.
By the end, his lead remained at seven, a PGA Championship record and victory is effectively sealed. He has dominated this event since before even teeing off on the first hole when he vowed to win “double-figure majors”. A course and championship record opening day, an unprecedented 36-hole marker and now a lead even Jean van de Velde couldn’t blow to take into the final day after an even-par 70
Beside the 14th green, after Koepka hacksawed from the rough up a sheer slope in a display of such brute strength it was almost ungolfly, a cry of “Tiger Woods” came from one well-lined fan. And while still provoking a wince of embarrassment, in many respects the idiocy carried truth. This lead is unseen and incomprehensible. Koepka has well and truly entered a territory unlike anything witnessed since Woods in his prime.
He is the evolutionary product of modern golf; athletic, unreasonably powerful and mercilessly straight. There is no flair, no theatrics, it is a permanent, crushing form of automated cruise control, dismantling his way round step-by-step in video game-esque manner.
Saturday is supposed to be moving day, the time where the bold charge and the favourites cast a threatening shadow in pursuit. Yet not a single player broke three-under-par - a score Koepka has twice beaten already this week. Koepka’s lead has been so devastating and disheartening, his competitors have been forced into urgent attack and for their risk, Bethpage has left them hopeless and bloodied. The harder they pushed, the quicker they became unstuck. Meanwhile, Koepka idles on unfazed, tranced in a stroll to victory.
“It is a weird thing,” Xander Shauffele, who sits in tied eight but lies nine shots back, said. ”This is a major and everyone is here to win, but there’s only one guy who’s absolutely just destroying this place. So I’m sure Brooks is having a blast. But for the rest of us, he’s making it awfully boring.”
This will be his fourth win in his last nine major starts, becoming the first man in history to defend the US Open and PGA Championship back-to-back. Quite clearly the best player in the world today, but quickly entering a territory almost forgotten. A type of dominating form that, if he can sustain it, can match what many said could never be relived.
Staring on hopelessly behind, World No 1 Dustin Johnson could only manage a 69 to share a tie for second with a host of lesser-known names, embracing their opportunity to charge through a fleshed field. Harold Varner and Luke List both shot 67 as did 23-year-old Jazz Janewattananond, who was serving as a Buddhist monk three years ago, but there is little point pretending. Koepka has not for a second released his stranglehold on this tournament, and even as he and Jordan Spieth approached the 18th green, his eyes wandered towards the looming scoreboard mid-conversation. History is just a breath away.