SAN FRANCISCO — I’m not here to pronounce the 2020 PGA Championship as done, dusted and decided after one round at TPC Harding Park.
But what I am here to advise is this: Don’t bet against Brooks Koepka, who’s three rounds away from making history.
Koepka’s form, missing for the better part of the past nine months, appears to be very much back. His quiet, confident swagger has returned. And he’s in his element — playing in a major championship.
This all was very evident in Thursday’s first round when Koepka, who nearly stole the WGC-FedEx St. Jude from winner Justin Thomas on Sunday, opened with a 4-under 66 to sit a shot off the lead of Jason Day and Brendon Todd.
Three more rounds similar to what he posted Thursday and Koepka will win this week and become the first player since Peter Thomson in 1956 at the British Open to go back-to-back-to-back in a major and first to do it at the PGA Championship since Walter Hagen, who won it four consecutive times (1924-27) when it was a match-play event.
It would be Koepka’s fifth career major championship victory — all of which have come since his 2017 U.S. Open win.
“I feel right where I should be,’’ Koepka said after his round. “I feel right where I need to be. I’m excited. I’m ready to play.’’
Three rounds away from history.
“Has anyone won the same major three times in a row?’’ Justin Rose asked. “I don’t know, has that been done?’’
Told it hadn’t been done in more than 60 years, Rose shook his head and said, “Yeah, it’s phenomenal. It’s a hell of an achievement. He seems to have that knack for it for sure. [He] obviously caught fire there at Memphis [last week] and looks like he’s on that same kind of biorhythm again this year.
“Listen, any major that comes along, it’s tough to find [great form]. If it’s the Masters, someone might be particularly suited to that golf course. But when you’re winning on obviously different tracks — U.S. Opens, PGAs — you’ve got to kind of respect that game. That skill set travels really well.’’
It still sticks in Koepka’s craw that he was unable to match Willie Anderson, the only player to win three consecutive U.S. Opens, when he fell just short of winner Gary Woodland in 2019 at Pebble Beach.
“It would mean extra because I wasn’t able to do it at the U.S. Open,’’ Koepka said of a PGA three-peat. “That drove me nuts a little bit. I mean, I played good golf, but I just got beat by Gary. To do it here, it would be special. I think there’s — what? — six guys that have ever won three in a row. Yeah, not a bad list to be on.’’
Koepka was unable to match Anderson, but he now has Hagen in his sights.
“Walter Hagen is a name every golf fan knows,” Koepka said before the tournament. “To even have a chance to put my name with his would be incredible and it would be super special.’’
Rory McIlroy has four career major championships and hasn’t defended any of them.
“To win two majors in a row, to defend a title is impressive,” McIlroy said. “To win three major championships back-to-back, and the run of golf he’s played in the majors has been incredible.
“He seems to find his comfort zone in these tournaments, in these environments, for whatever reason that is. I think we are all just lucky that he doesn’t find it every other week.’’
To add context to just how difficult and rare a feat Koepka is chasing is to look at the other players on the list who’ve accomplished a three-peat in a major and how long it’s been since it was done.
Thomson won his third British Open in a row in 1956. That was 29 years after Hagen did it at the PGA. Hagen’s four-peat came 22 years after Anderson’s three U.S. Open wins in a row. The other three were from the 19th century at the British Open — Bob Ferguson (1880-82), Jamie Anderson (1877-79) and Young Tom Morris (1868-70) — when the fields were about 40 players.
Three rounds from a three-peat. It’s a tantalizing thought, but one Koepka insisted on tamping down Thursday — at least just a little bit.
“It’s only 18 holes right now,’’ Koepka said. “I feel good. I feel confident. I’m excited for the next three days. I think I can definitely play a lot better, and just need to tidy a few things up, and we’ll be there come Sunday on the back nine.’’
Yes, but it was a telling 18 holes. Koepka looks like Koepka again.
That tells me he’s going to be raising the Wanamaker Trophy on Sunday evening for the third consecutive year.
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