In 2009, Stewart Cink won the Open Championship (formerly called the British Open) in a playoff against Tom Watson. But only die-hard golf fans will remember that Cink won that tournament.
What most fans will remember was the excitement and drama of the 59-year-old, five-time Open winner Watson taking the lead after two rounds and holding onto it all the way through the 72nd hole on Sunday, when his par putt faded, as did his hopes and dreams of becoming the oldest major winner ever.
This year’s final major in golf, the PGA Championship, will probably be remembered in a similar way. The winner, Brooks Koepka, deserves to be more than a footnote, as I will gladly explain toward the end of this column.
But the buzz and drama of this tournament was really about the greatest golfer of the last quarter century, Tiger Woods, who has won 14 majors in his career, but none since his last US Open win in 2008.
Woods is now 42 rather than 59, but his quest for another major is no less improbable or quixotic now than Watson’s was in 2009.
Woods’ career began to take a turn for the worse when his personal life fell apart along with his marriage in 2009. A great deal of Woods’ dominance in golf prior to that time derived from the apparent invincibility of his mental game, and Tiger’s personal debacle seemed to shake his confidence on the course as well.
While he had some victories in regular tour events for several years after that, he no longer held the same edge over his competitors, and an array of new young golfers rose to the challenge of filling the vacuum created after Tiger’s fall from grace.
In the last five years, physical problems have added to Tiger’s woes. He has had knee injuries and four back surgeries, and he has spent entire seasons on the sidelines.
His return to prominence was by no means assured as he reached his 40s. And while the networks teased and Tiger sometimes appeared almost back to his old form, time and again he fell short.
But this year, Tiger has proven that he has really come back. He placed second at the Valspar Tournament and briefly held the lead at the Open on Sunday before finishing sixth.
Then at the PGA Championship, Woods fired off his best round ever on a Sunday in a major, scoring a 64 and finishing just two strokes behind Koepka in second place.
On that Sunday, Tiger looked like his old self. While his drives were erratic, his scrambling was phenomenal, his irons were spot on, and his putting was sensational.
His four birdies over the final seven holes kept the crowd roaring, and on the last two holes, he sank putts from the 15-foot range in a valiant effort to overtake Koepka.
But Brooks Koepka was steady as a rock on Sunday. He led Adam Scott by three strokes starting the day, and his final round 66 included six birdies and only two bogeys.
His performance was solid but not spectacular, but it should not be underestimated, especially considering all the thunder from the gallery chasing Woods just ahead of him.
Koepka has now won three of the last seven majors, adding the 2018 PGA to his two US Open wins in 2017 and 2018. He deserves more than the polite applause that he received as he walked up to the 18th hole when Tiger’s legion of fans tried to swallow their disappointment at the final outcome.
He certainly deserves to have his name pronounced correctly by the television commentators. It should be pronounced as Kep-ka, not Kop-ka, as one analyst did, and his first name is Brooks, not Bruce, as another commentator mistakenly said at least twice.
Brooks Koepka was not the lead story on Monday morning after this year’s PGA Championship was in the books. But at age 28, with three majors to his credit, Koepka is now the No. 2 ranked golfer in the world, behind only Dustin Johnson.
To put Koepka’s current standing in context, Tiger is now ranked No. 26 in the world, even after his recent revival.
But make no mistake. Tiger is on the rise, and so will be golf’s television ratings. His hunt for a 15th major will begin anew at next year’s Masters Tournament. Stay tuned.
John McColgan writes from his home in Joseph.