Brooks Koepka is back.
The four-time major champion hadn’t won a PGA Tour title since the 2019 WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and suffered through an injury-riddled 2020. When asked on Friday if it felt like it had been a long time since he’d claimed victory, he said, “I would say so. In my mind last year didn’t even happen. I do know it’s been a long time so I’m itching to get a W.”
Koepka scratched that itch in dramatic fashion, chipping in for eagle from 98 feet at the 334-yard 17th hole. It was Koepka’s second eagle of the day and it lifted him to a come-from-behind victory at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, edging South Korea’s K.H. Lee (68) and Xander Schauffele (71) by one stroke.
“It’s what I live for,” Koepka said. “I live for those moments where you got to close, you got to hit some quality shots, quality putts. I don’t know, I just like showing off, I guess.”
But for about 18 months he couldn’t perform like the player who won four major championships and climbed to No. 1 in the world. Koepka battled injuries to his left knee, which required multiple stem-cell treatments, and hip. He missed the Presidents Cup in December 2019 and needed another two-month layoff last year, missing the FedEx Cup playoffs and U.S. Open, to allow his injuries to heal properly.
“It was a lot worse than I probably let on,” he said. “There was a period maybe for about two months where I just questioned whether I was ever going to be the same, whether I was even going to be somewhat remotely the same golfer that I ever was. Those dark places, a lot of tears, questioning yourself, and in dark places mentally. You’ve got to come out of that. … I’ll tell you what, it takes a lot of effort just do get out of those places.”
Despite entering the week having missed three straight cuts for the first time in his career, Koepka kept telling anyone that would listen that his game was fine. “Sometimes results aren’t everything,” he said. “You know it’s coming. You can feel it.”
Koepka made birdie on his final four holes on Saturday to climb within five strokes of the lead entering the final round. He erased that deficit with a 24-foot eagle putt at the third hole and a string of three birdies in a row beginning at No. 13. Koepka, who won his maiden Tour title here in 2015, collected his eighth Tour trophy, signing for a 6-under 65 and 72-hole total of 19-under 265.
Former World No. 1 Jordan Spieth, who has plummeted to No. 92 in the rankings and hasn’t won since the 2017 British Open, shared the 54-hole lead after a sizzling 10-under 61. But his troubles off the tee continued to plague him as he ranked last in driving accuracy and pulled his tee shot into the water at the par-5 15th and par-4 17th holes. He closed with a 1-over 72, but recorded his first top-10 finish in nearly a year, finishing in a share of fourth place with 53-year-old U.S. Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker and Carlos Ortiz. Spieth emphasized the positives that he’s moving in the right direction despite his swing failing him in crunch time.
“It is far from where I want it to be as far as how it feels, but, boy, I was debating not even playing this week, dropping out on Friday afternoon last week,” he said. “I felt like I was really far from where I needed to be and this golf course in general isn’t a great golf course for me historically, so I thought I could then go in to Pebble Beach a little fresher. Boy, I’m glad I came.”
It was an equally tough final round for World No. 4 Xander Schauffele, who failed to end his winless drought of more than two years. Schauffele pulled his drive into the water at 17 sealing his fate and marking the fifth time he’s held or shared the 54-hole lead without converting a victory. He recorded his 10th runner-up finish since the start of the 2017-18 season.
“Just going to try and lick my wounds. I think Brooks is a great example for me. He hasn’t been in great form, missed few cuts, and comes out and wins,” Schauffele said. “There is a reason he’s knocked off a bunch of majors. That’s something I’m trying to do. I need to learn from a recipe like his.”
As the leaders struggled, it left the door open for someone to surge from the pack. James Hahn raced ahead by three strokes after six birdies in his first 10 holes, but the wheels soon came off. He hit into the water on both of the par 5s on the back nine, making four bogeys coming home and finishing 10th at 15 under.
Ortiz held the clubhouse lead at 17 under until Koepka’s heroics at 17. Koepka lifted his wedge to the sky in celebration and pumped his right fist as his eagle chip dropped in the hole.
“If I just caught it right in the fringe it was going to check up on me, and it did perfectly,” he said. “Took a nice little right kick for me, and didn’t look anywhere else but the hole.
“Happy for that one to go in. Hell of a week.”