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Twelve months ago Brooks Koepka finished the Masters by trying to put his fist through a car window round the back of Augusta National’s caddie hut. He had just signed for a score of 75, which meant he missed the cut and finished in a tie for 59th. “I don’t even know if I should be saying this,” he admitted on Friday, “but I tried to break the back window with my fist.”
First time it bounced right off again. So then he tried again, and it still did not break. “Yeah,” he said with a chuckle, “I guess Mercedes makes a pretty good window.”
The ride home that night “was pretty silent”. Koepka was, at that point, still working his way back to fitness after having surgery to repair a shattered knee cap. It was only three years earlier that he had won his fourth major, when he won his second PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Now he found he was so frustrated with how badly his recovery was going that he was thinking about quitting professional golf. “If I wasn’t going to be able to move the way I wanted to, I didn’t want to play the game any more. It’s just that simple. There were definitely moments of that.”
And now here he is, well on his way to winning his fifth. Koepka followed his opening round of 65 with a second of 67, which put him 12 under. Watching him play these past two days has been to see him remember who he used to be back before he broke his knee. When he is playing like this, Koepka’s golf feels as inevitable as the weather: he has hit 25 fairways out of 28 and found 29 out of 36 greens. There has been just the one solitary dropped shot, the bogey he made on the 13th on Thursday. He has been utterly relentless.
On Friday Koepka knew his early tee time gave him an edge over the two men he was tied with overnight, Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland, because it meant he could get out and round before the forecast storms closed in. Augusta’s committee men knew it too and had set the course up with a series of tricky pin positions, presumably thinking it would limit the early birds’ advantage by making it tricky for them to run away from the field before the conditions changed later in the day.
Koepka weighed the situation and adjusted his expectations. His approach to the game has always been ruthlessly focused. “I’m not thinking one hole ahead or if I birdie this I’m going to get to that,” he said. “Whatever the moment is, just go with it.” Here he lasered in on targeting Augusta’s four par-fives, which he covered in five under. “That’s what you’ve got to do.” In between them he made a series of brilliant par saves. “Momentum putts,” he called them, “and I think that’s one of the things that’s kind of been lacking.”
The big shift came on the long uphill 8th, which snakes its way from the heart of the course back up towards the clubhouse. Koepka hit a 300-yard drive, then chopped an astonishing shot that fetched up 13ft from the pin. He beat down on it like he did that car window and whipped the ball in low along the trees that line the left side of the fairway. He followed up by draining the eagle putt and that put him three shots up.
A year ago, the shot would have been impossible for him. “The uphill lies were killer just because I couldn’t get my weight going forward and couldn’t push off.” It was only in January that he began to feel like his old self again. “I knew then that everything was right where it needed to be.”
Koepka was honest enough to admit that, if he had known this time last year that he was going to get back to playing like this, then his decision to join LIV would have been a lot trickier. He never seemed to care much for the events outside the majors but now says he misses them. “Competitively, you miss playing against them, right? Because you want Rory to play his best and Scottie to play his best and Jon to play his best and go toe-to-toe with them. I do miss that. That’s one thing that I do miss and that’s what I think makes these majors so cool.”
Not, Koepka added, that he regrets the decision now. He says the reduced workload helped his recovery. And all he has ever really cared about is winning majors. “Yeah the whole goal is to win the grand slam, right?” he said. “I feel like all the greats have won here and they have all won British Opens as well.”
Winning here would be “one more box for me to tick to truly feel like I’ve done what I should have accomplished in this game.” It may be an “entirely new knee” but he has still got that same old edge about him.
Brooks Koepka finds momentum at the Masters after year of frustration | The Masters
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