Golf

Brooks Koepka will be Tiger Woods’ major competition at PGA Championship

Brooks Koepka is accustomed to producing low numbers, but these aren't the kind he prefers.

When Tiger Woods finished his pre-tournament interview Tuesday at the PGA Championship, more than half the hundred or so reporters in the Bethpage Black media tent left with him. Koepka, the tournament's defending champion and a golfer on a scorching hot streak, inspired a smattering of people to stick around.

The skies were dark over the golf course, but nothing compared to the shadow in which Koepka's living. Woods is the main event, and Koepka's the guy who wins a lot more than he smiles.

"I think I'm very stone-faced, very focused," Koepka told the half-empty room at his news conference, the brim of his black cap pulled low and almost over his eyes. "But I also don't want to give you guys an idea of what's going on. I'm not nervous at all. ... I think a lot of times it's more not to let anybody know what's going on in my head, keep it kind of a mystery."

Some of Koepka's strengths are plain to see. Guy looks as if he could crush a Titleist with his bare hands.

Woods was asked if Koepka reminded him of a young Tiger. At 43, Woods is 14 years older.

"Brooksy looks like a young me? No, I wish," he quipped. "I was never that big. I was 130 pounds. But we're both able to generate (club-head) speed. I did it differently; I didn't have muscle. I did it through whip and timing. Brooksy has just got pure power."

In the last two major championships, Woods and Koepka finished first and second. That was Koepka first in last year's PGA, and Woods two strokes behind in second ... and Woods first at the Masters, and Koepka one shot back.

Koepka has won three of the last seven majors – including the last two U.S. Opens – and finished 13th or better in 11 of 13 majors. That's eight top 10 finishes, seven top sixes, six top fives and four top fours, with three wins and a second.

"We might be on the brink of the next great golf rivalry, the golf rivalry we've wanted forever," CBS announcer Jim Nantz said of Koepka and Woods. "They've got 1-2 in the last two major championships, and no one's going to talk about (Koepka). In my mind, he's the favorite coming into Bethpage just based on facts, what he's done in these last 13 majors. It's an awesome stretch for him."

According to GolfOdds.com, Woods, Koepka, and Dustin Johnson are co-favorites to win at Bethpage, each at 10-to-1.

When Woods was making his stirring walk up the 18th fairway at the Masters last month, winning his 15th major but his first in 11 years, Koepka was signing his scorecard and filled with a sense of resignation.

"I just sat there and watched it," he said. "I mean, I think it's something any player, any fan, any golfer was probably glued to the TV at that moment watching it. It was pretty neat, pretty special for all of us."

Well, maybe not that special for everyone.

"I was a little bit disappointed," Koepka conceded. "I felt like I kind of let it slip a little bit. But at the same time, that's what our sport needed. We needed him to win a major. It's good for everybody. It's good for the sponsors, good for the players, good for fans."

Now, Koepka is ready to resume winning. There are 156 players in the PGA field. Already, he has whittled that down to a much smaller group in his mind.

"You figure at least 80 of them I'm just going to beat," he said. "From there, the other (76), you figure about half of them won't play well from there, so you're down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just – pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you've just got to beat those guys."

Sounds simple enough.

"I think one of the big things that I've learned over the last few years is you don't need to try to go win it," he said. "Just hang around. If you hang around, good things are going to happen."

He has learned to linger in the shadows, and clearly it's a comfortable place to be.

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