Brooks Koepka and Tiger Woods shake hands on the 18th green during the second round of the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on Friday in Farmingdale, New York. Jamie Squire/ AFP
There wasn’t a ceremony and Brooks Koepka says he needs plenty more major wins to match Tiger Woods, but the aura of golf invincibility has been passed, at least verbally.
It happened at the PGA Championship after defending champion Koepka fired a five-under par 65 at Bethpage Black on Friday to seize a seven-stroke lead on 12-under 128.
It’s the largest 36-hole lead in modern major history. It’s the lowest 36-hole score in major history by two shots.
And it’s clear Woods, Koepka’s playing partner the past two days who missed the cut with scores of 72 and 73, sees what happens when a new generation learns from his legend.
“At 29 he has got many more years ahead of him where he can do this,” Woods said. “He paid his dues. He found a game and a dedication that he needed to play well and he’s doing that.”
Woods edged Koepka by a stroke last month to win the Masters, ending an 11-year major win drought for his 15th career major title. He won the first 14 with big 54-hole leads and sees Koepka able to do the same now.
“He’s driving it 330 yards in the middle of the fairway. He’s got 9-irons when most of us are hitting 5-irons, 4-irons, and he’s putting well,” Woods said.
“That adds up to a pretty substantial lead and if he keeps doing what he’s doing, there’s no reason why he can’t build on this lead.”
Woods can see himself in Koepka.
“Relative to the field, I was about that long early in my career, when you’re able to hit the ball much further than other players,” Woods said.
“I was never that big. I was 130 pounds. But we’re both able to generate speed. I didn’t have muscle. I did it through whip and timing.
“Brooksy has just got pure power and he’s an athlete. He played other sports and he could have easily been a baseball player. Players like that who come to golf generally hit the ball far because a baseball bat is so much heavier than a golf club.”
Koepka dismisses the hurry to anoint him as the new Tiger, even as he admits he has a great chance to win his fourth major in his past eight starts on Sunday.
“I’ve got 11 more to go or 12 more to go before that happens,” Koepka said.
He shot the lowest round by any Woods playing partner in a major since Woods turned professional in 1996.
“You have to bring your game when you’re with him,” Koepka said.
Koepka said that when Woods shook his hand after the round he said, “Keep it up. Great playing, and finish it off strong.”
Koepka said it wasn’t even a great day lamenting two bogeys.
“I didn’t strike it that good. But the way I hung in there today and battled it, I think was probably more impressive than (his 63), not having your A game but still being able to shoot a great score.”
Why I go to the gym
Asked about how he blasted out of tall weeds, Koepka said, “That’s why I go to the gym.”
Asked about his putting, Koepka said,
“I feel as comfortable as I’ve ever felt putting this week. I feel every time I even slide the putter right behind the ball it’s lined up perfectly.”
And he admits he learned by playing alongside Woods in the past not to watch him as he had on television as a child.
“All I did was watch him for nine holes. That’s what I grew up doing,” Koepka said. “And you can’t do that. You’ve got to focus on your own game.”
And it’s clear Koepka has learned from Woods when you have a lead to keep going.
“I’d like to see that lead grow as large as it possibly can,” Koepka said. “I still have to go out there and do what I’m supposed to do, keep putting the ball in the right spot.
“Make sure you don’t make any double bogeys and I should have a good chance of winning the championship.”
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