Rory McIlroy spiced up the final round beautifully at the 102nd US PGA Championship at Harding Park on Sunday when he accused Brooks Koepka of being disrespectful towards third-round leader Dustin Johnson.
The Northern Irishman took exception to Koepka applying a few mind games towards his supposed friend Johnson in his bid to become only the second player to win this major three years in a row.
Johnson went to the first tee with the 2016 US Open as the sole major to his name and Koepka was only too eager to highlight the difficulties the former has had in closing the deal.
Rory McIlroy says was ‘taken aback’ by Brooks Koepka talking in such a manner about rivals
Brooks Koepka spoke openly when asked about the chances of the rivals players around him
‘I like my chances and particularly when you look at how others have done when in contention to win majors,’ he said, before sticking the knife in. ‘I mean, DJ’s only won one.’
That didn’t sit well with McIlroy, after he had ended his week’s work with a 68 to finish just outside the top 30. ‘I was sort of taken aback when I heard it,’ said McIlroy. ‘I try to respect the fact that everyone out here is a great player and I think if you’ve won a major championship you’re a hell of a player.
‘It’s very hard to knock someone who’s won 21 times out here like DJ, which is three times as many victories as Brooks.’ Ouch.
If only Rory’s golf right now carried as much edge. There was an eagle late on but this was a week when he had 12 bogeys and a triple, and no player can hope to contend making that many mistakes.
McIlroy, who has now gone six years without a major victory, appeared none too happy when asked afterwards why his record was poor in comparison to his younger days. ‘I don’t know, maybe I’m just not as good any more,’ he said. ‘I’m trying every single day to get better and I’ve just got to keep persisting.’
As for the leaders, McIlroy must have allowed himself a wry smile as Koepka made a dreadful start to his final round. On a day when the pin positions were inviting and the course set up for attacking play, Koepka shot a dreadful four-over-par 74 to finish no fewer than 10 shots behind the winner, Collin Morikawa.
Paul Casey fared far better than his playing partner Koepka and was right in the mix until the very end at 11 under, finishing second alongside Johnson, whose 68 was not quite enough.
Then there was the man who is proving impossible to ignore these days — Bryson DeChambeau.
At the first two holes the irrepressible 26-year-old’s iron shots finished 3ft and 5ft away for virtual tap-in birdies. He also birdied the fourth and seventh to be actually tied for the lead at that point, before bogeying the eighth and ninth. He finished fourth despite an excellent 66 as Morikawa went two better with a 64.
Dustin Johnson entered the final day of play in the driving seat at TCP Harding Park
Also in the mix were a host of others, including young Americans Matt Wolff and Xander Schauffele, but Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose struggled to stay in touch.
A 44-year-old man playing only his third event of the year not only made the halfway cut but closed with a final round 67 to finish inside the top 50. He had only one three putt during the week and only one hole where he marked down something worse than a bogey.
Put it like that, how could anyone see the performance by Tiger Woods as anything but positive, as he sets his sights on the strong list of tournaments over the next three months?
The trouble is, when did we ever judge Tiger by mortal standards? When did he ever apply those measures to himself? In Tiger’s own words, the conclusion he drew following his performance was a downbeat acceptance that he is struggling to keep up with the present-day superstars, and the requirements of the modern game.
‘The reality is the courses are getting bigger and longer,’ said the man who certainly isn’t getting any longer. ‘It is getting much harder to win out here.’ Woods was pleased that he got through the chilly week without any problems with his fused back. The FedEx Cup play-offs begin next week and Woods even held out the hope of playing in all three events.
‘I just don’t know at this point how much I will be able to play but that is the goal,’ he said. ‘I think I’ve shown here that I can be competitive. I just didn’t hole enough putts on Friday and Saturday to give myself a chance.’
Collin Morikawa won his first major with a sensational final round of 64 at Harding Park
There’s no shame, of course, in whatever happens to Tiger from now on. But what about the man once considered his rightful heir, after bursting on the scene to win the Masters at 21 and three majors before the age of 24? Jordan Spieth is only 27 now, and came to Harding Park trying to complete the career Grand Slam.
It’s an illustration of how far he’s fallen that no one was surprised that he was out very early on the final day. Neither was a 67 any consolation.
‘Don’t worry about Jordan, I know him as well as anyone and he’ll be fine,’ said world No 1 Justin Thomas, the man who grew up in Spieth’s shadow. But it’s hard not to worry about Spieth. His slump has been going on far too long now to be dismissed as the sort that all players go through.