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PGA leader Koepka gets chance to ease Masters ‘choking’ pain

Brooks Koepka of the United States watches his shot during the third round of the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club on 20 May 2023 in Rochester, New York)

Brooks Koepka blamed himself for “choking” away the Masters last month after entering the final day with a four-stroke lead and 30 holes to play.

The four-time major winner, who squandered that lead and lost the green jacket to world number one Jon Rahm, will have his chance at redemption on Sunday at the PGA Championship.

Koepka fired a four-under-par 66 for the second consecutive day on Saturday at Oak Hill to stand on six-under 204 for 54 holes, one stroke ahead of Norway’s Viktor Hovland and Canada’s Corey Conners.

The American star, among those who departed the PGA Tour for the Saudi-financed LIV Golf League, said the hard-earned lessons of Augusta have helped him play well this week.

“I think that was a big thing for me,” said Koepka, who acknowledged earlier this week that he “choked” at the Masters.

“Learning what I learned at Augusta kind of helped today. I won’t do it again the rest of my career. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go play bad. You can play good, you’ll play bad, but I’ll never have that mindset or that won’t ever be the reason.”

Koepka has kept the lessons to himself but it clearly will change how he handles a lead in the final round as he chases his first major title since 2019 and his first since a major right knee operation in 2021.

Winning his first major since missing much of the past two years would be sweet, Koepka said.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “To win one would be fantastic. Just got to go out and go play good tomorrow.”

Koepka would join Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as the only players with five major titles since 1990.

He would have three PGA Championship triumphs, a career mark in stroke play exceeded only by Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

Koepka, a winner in last month’s LIV event at Orlando, has worked hard on conditioning in his comeback from knee surgery.

“I thought all I had to do was be healthy,” he said. “But having an off-season to bust my butt and be in the gym every day, working on different recovery, it has been really good.

“Now it starts to look like a real knee, or as good as it’s going to look. I’m super pleased with it.”

Koepka was a runner-up to Mickelson in the 2021 PGA Championship, but that was only weeks after his surgery.

“I came back too soon and played for too long,” he said. “But I moved on from that.”

Koepka also moved onto LIV Golf and took some heckling from the crowd for it on Saturday, one fan hollering, “Do it for Norman, baby,” a reference to LIV Golf commissioner Greg Norman.

“Didn’t hear any good chirps, nothing creative,” Koepka said. “A lot of it’s repetitive.”

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