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Koepka wins fifth major

Kevin C. Cox/Agence France-Presse | Brooks Koepka hoists the Wanamaker Trophy after winning the 2023 PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York on Sunday.

ROCHESTER (AFP) — Brooks Koepka outdueled Viktor Hovland and Scottie Scheffler in a back-nine battle Sunday to win the PGA Championship for his fifth major title, giving Saudi-backed LIV Golf a milestone major triumph.

The 33-year-old American captured his third PGA Championship and became the first player to win a major since joining LIV, firing a three-under-par 67 to finish 72 holes at Oak Hill on nine-under 271.

“This is probably the sweetest one of them all because of all the hard work that went into it,” Koepka said.

“This one is definitely special.”

Norway’s 11th-ranked Hovland, chasing his first major title, and American Scheffler, last year’s Masters winner and the new world number one, shared second on 273.

“I put up a good fight. I played great today,” Scheffler said.

“I gave the guys on top of the leaderboard something to think about.”

“But Brooks just played some fantastic golf this week. He played too good this weekend for me to catch up to him.”

There was a smattering of boos for Koepka as he walked onto the 18th green to make the concluding putts for the title, a sign of the bitter acrimony that has engulfed golf since the launch of the LIV circuit last year.

But Koepka calmly finished off an impressive romp, his first major win since 2021 right knee surgery sidelined him for most of the past two seasons.

“I hear it all,” Koepka said.

“I just don’t care. That’s sports. You’ve got to be mentally tough.”

Thinking of the rehabilitation and recovery made Koepka emotional as he walked off the 18th green.

“I look back at where we were two years ago,” Koepka said.

“I’m so happy right now. I’m at a loss for words. But this is the coolest thing.”

Koepka’s victory puts him among the winningest 20 men in major history.

“It’s incredible,” Koepka said.

“I’m not sure I even dreamed when I was a kid I would win this many.”

Australia’s Cam Davis and American Kurt Kitayama shared fourth on 277 with another LIV player, American Bryson DeChambeau.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy shared seventh on 278 with Austrian Sepp Straka.

Koepka was among the stars who jumped from the PGA Tour to breakaway LIV Golf, which offered record $25 million purses for 54-hole events, despite concern over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

The PGA banned LIV talent from its events, with a legal fight between them due in court next May. In the meantime, the majors have provided the only outlet for competition between players from the rival tours.

In all, there were six major winners from LIV in the field of 156 with a combined 15 major crowns, none of them won since joining the upstart circuit, including Australian Cam Smith’s British Open title last July.

“We haven’t forgot how to play golf,” Smith said. “We’re all great golfers out there.”

Koepka led entering the final round at last month’s Masters but, in his words, “choked” away the green jacket, finishing second to Spain’s Jon Rahm but taking lessons in mental attitude.

“I definitely wouldn’t have won today if that didn’t happen,” Koepka said.

– Ace for US club pro –

In the closing drama, Hovland was undone by a 9-iron from a fairway bunker at 16, where he embedded his ball into the bunker wall and went on to make double bogey.

Koepka sank a birdie putt at 16 from just inside five feet to reach 10-under and lead by four.

“I thought I handled myself pretty well,” Hovland said. “Pretty unfortunate on 16 but I don’t feel like I gave it away.

“Brooks deserved to win. He hit a lot of great putts and a lot of great shots.”

Scheffler birdied 18 and Koepka took bogey at 17 to lead by two at the 18th hole. He dropped his approach inside 10 feet and two-putted for victory.

US club professional Michael Block aced the 151-yard par-3 15th on the fly with a 7-iron and was cheered all the way along his walk to the hole. It was the first hole-in-one by a club pro in the PGA since 1999.

Block shot 71 to share 15th on 281, earning a spot in next year’s PGA field.

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