We have ample context for Brooks Koepka’s greatness, over the course of his career and this week. At Bethpage, he held off a DJ charge. At Bellerive, he blocked out the absolute frenzy of a Tiger move. This week, he raced ahead and held off two of the game’s elite players in Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler, guys you could argue have been superior players to Brooks in recent injury-plagued years. Full Swing did more than argue it, explicitly showing us that was the case.
Hovland, the more questionable challenger, was exceptional. He did not push Koepka to the very end, but went 10 rounds with the best major championship player of this era. It was another step up, a significant one, from recent major championship dalliances at The Open and the Masters. It did not look that way through the first three holes, as Koepka raced out to a three-shot lead. Hovland, much as he did on Saturday when things got dicey, punched back impressively and immediately with consecutive birdies to keep it close and take the tee box.
The Oak Hill setup accentuated Hovland’s tee-to-green strengths while mitigating his weaknesses around the greens, with the thick, hack-it-out rough helping to hide his chipping woes. He got an early test at the first green, where his ball fortuitously stopped in a first cut as opposed to the tightly-mown area behind the green. Aided by that rough and the fact that his handful of missed greens ended in bunkers rather than a tight lie, Hovland finished the week with positive strokes gained around the green while leading the field in approach. He battled all day until ending up in a bunker on the 16th in which he replicated the Corey Conners embedded ball shot, a final and fatal mistake. It was the first time Hovland let a certified major legend in Koepka exhale on an extremely impressive Sunday of his own.
“It sucks right now, but it is really cool to see that things are going the right direction,” Hovland said after the round. “I think we’re going to get one of these soon.” Everything we saw from him today, and indeed for three straight majors now, suggests he’s right.
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