Globetrotter Koepka gets his first PGA win
Lingering for most of the final round, Koepka holed a 50-foot eagle putt from the fringe on the 15th hole and made no mistakes the rest of the way.
The victory ended a long, arduous road for the 24-year-old from Florida. With no status in America, Koepka played the Challenge Tour in Kazakhstan, Kenya and elsewhere, winning four times to earn his European Tour card and validating his status as a rising star by winning last year’s Turkish Open.
But winning at home brought the strongest validation. “It feels amazing,’’ Koepka said after his one-shot win over Hideki Matsuyama, Masters champion Bubba Watson and Ryan Palmer.
Of five players who had a share of the lead in a wild final hour at the TPC Scottsdale, Matsuyama had the last chance to catch Koepka until his 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole missed well to the right.
Martin Laird, who had a three-shot lead going into the final round, was tied with Koepka going to the 17th, when he sprayed it well right into the gallery on the short par-4 hole and made bogey, then pulled his tee shot into the water on the 18th and made double bogey. He closed with a 72.
Palmer shared the lead with a birdie on the 15th, but he had to settle for pars the rest of the way for a 66. So did Watson, who reached the front of the 17th green only to three-putt for par.
Matsuyama, who holed out from 129 yards for eagle on the first hole and was the first player to catch up to Laird, took the lead with a beautiful pitch behind the green on the par-5 13th. He went 44 consecutive holes without a bogey until three-putting on the 14th, and he never recovered. He shot 67.
Koepka already was eligible for the Masters with his tie for fourth at the U.S. Open last summer, and his victory during the final stretch of the Race to Dubai in Europe last year raised his stock.
Koepka had not played since the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa two months ago, taking a full month off from his clubs and working hard over the past few weeks after a change to his putting stroke.
Back-to-back birdies near the end of the front nine kept him in range. A solid chip from behind the 13th green for a 4-foot birdie kept him within two shots of Matsuyama. And his fortunes changed mightily with an eagle putt on 15.
A Florida State alum who describes himself as “chill’’ had plenty of adrenaline pumping on the 17th hole when he hit a 3-wood over the back of the green. It came to rest on the red hazard line, a foot from going into the water. He chipped to about 12 feet and missed the birdie putt that might have clinched it.
And with the pressure of holding a one-shot lead as he went after his first PGA Tour win, Koepka smashed his driver 331 yards down the middle of the fairway.