In the end, it wasn’t to be for Adam Scott in the 100th USPGA Championship at Bellerive.
Despite shooting a closing round of 67, three-under par over the sodden 7,291-yard lay-out, the former Masters champion could finish no better than third behind the now three-time major champion, Brooks Koepka, and a resurgent Tiger Woods, whose 64 tied the low round of the final day.
Koepka’s 66 took him to 16-under par for the week, two shots better than Woods and three ahead of his playing partner, Scott. But those numbers don’t really do the 38-year old Queenslander justice. While Woods trailed the eventual champion all day, never once drawing level, Scott – who won $748,000 – was tied for the lead alongside the 27-year old Floridian with only five holes to play. His was the real challenge.
It was Koepka who finished the stronger though, perhaps not surprisingly given that he won his second consecutive US Open only two months before and Scott – who was carrying two putters, long and short, in his bag – has not won anywhere in the world for two-and-a-half years. Still, this was a remarkable effort from a man who arrived in Missouri ranked 76th in the world and largely written off as a future contender at the very highest level of the game.
“I was feeling really good out there especially on the back-nine,” said a disappointed Scott, who missed from short range for birdie on the penultimate green, then pulled his drive wildly left off the final tee. “I had high hopes today, especially when I was tied with Brooks with five holes to play. We all seemed to be struggling at first. But we all got going around the turn. I felt fine until I missed birdie putts on 14 and 15. That cost me my momentum. And I didn’t play the final two holes very well. Still, my season is looking a little better now. I’m optimistic about my prospects in the coming play-offs.
“It feels good because I performed well in this situation. It’s not like I'd forgotten what to do, playing in a final group of a major, or playing in contention late on Sunday. But there's always things to work on when you're not the winner. I certainly want to keep improving. I can't stop here. I'd like to play really well then take some satisfaction out of this year.”
As for Koepka, his was a performance of sustained brilliance, especially off the tee. Employing his now traditional power-fade off the tee, he made a mockery of the theory that a left-to-right player might struggle on a course where as many as eight holes bend from right-to-left. Perhaps his only moment of doubt came when he missed from short range on the penultimate green. But when Scott did the same, the two-shot edge he carried to the final hole was more than enough cushion.
“I struck it so well at Firestone last week, I just wasn't putting well,” said Koepka, who earned $1.98m. “My head was kind of moving back on the ball. And that's all we focused on when we got here. I just needed to hit the ball well and do the stuff I was doing. My coach didn’t say one word to me this week, I was hitting it that good. He just stood behind me and was like, ‘yup, that's perfect.’ So we just worked on some putting, making sure my head stayed still.
“It's tough to beat a guy who hits it 340 down the middle every hole.” - Tiger Woods on Brooks Koepka
“But to come out here and play as well as I did was really amazing. I can't even put into words how well I played.”
All of which, it must be said, was of secondary consideration – make that virtually no interest – to the vast crowds swarming over the course during what was a momentous final round. For them, this event was all about one man: Woods. Seemingly about to make what CBS commentator and six-time major winner Nick Faldo called “the biggest comeback in golf history,” the man who has surely played the best golf in the long history of the game made eight birdies in an extraordinarily topsy-turvy round.
On the outward-half, Woods failed to find the fairway on even one hole. Yet he was three-under par at the turn, courtesy of eight single-putts in succession. This was Seve Ballesteros-squared in terms of a) wildness and b) ability to score. The inward-half wasn’t much better either. By the close, however, Woods was quick to acknowledge he had simply been beaten by a better man. In contrast to last month’s Open Championship at Carnoustie – where he led with seven holes to play before fading – this was an easier “defeat” to handle.
“It's tough to beat a guy who hits it 340 down the middle every hole,” he said with a smile. “Brooks was just bombing it at Shinnecock and he did the same thing here. I played with him in a practice round and he was literally hitting it 340, 350 through the air. When a guy's doing that and hitting it straight and as good a putter as he is, it's tough to beat.
“I was pretty ticked at the British Open. I had the lead there. This one I never quite got to the lead. I was always trailing. It was a golf course in which I couldn't sit still and make pars and be okay with it. I had to keep making birdies. The course was gettable. I had to go get it and I tried.”
That he did. And a noble effort it was too. He’s on the way back. Just how far back remains to be seen.