By Jay Betsill
Brooks Koepka closed with a 5-under 66 to win the Waste Management Phoenix Open for his first PGA Tour victory. The 24-year old drained a 50-foot eagle putt on the par-5 15th hole to jump to the top of a crowded leaderboard that included Masters champion Bubba Watson, Memorial champion Hideki Matsuyama and DFW resident Ryan Palmer.
“I left every long putt short today,” Koepka said. “I said to my caddie, `I’m finally going to get this one there.”
Koepka’s second victory in four starts against strong fields — he won the Turkish Airlines Open during the final stretch of the Race to Dubai on the European Tour in November — has moved him up to No. 19 in the world rankings, but the win did not come without a little bit of luck. On No. 17, Koepka’s ball came to rest on the red hazard line, a foot from the water hazard while playing competitor Martin Laird drove into the gallery and would go on to three-putt for a bogey.
The week began with big buzz about the Super Bowl being played across town and the fact that Tiger Woods was making his first appearance in Phoenix in over a decade. By the time the weekend arrived, Woods and Phil Mickelson had missed the cut and the buzz in the golf world revolved around No. 1 Rory McIlroy and his dominance in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Koepka, who finished at 15-under 269. “I didn’t think I would work my way up this quickly, but playing the Challenge and European tours led to this. And especially the failure I’ve had. I can’t tell you how much I learned from that.”
Notables in the field included Jordan Spieth (T7, -11), Brandt Snedeker (T10, -10), Zach Johnson (T10, -10), Keegan Bradley (T17, -8), Billy Horschel (T30, -5), Matt Kuchar (T30, -5) and Rickie Fowler (T46, -3).
The next stop on the PGA TOUR is the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. The strong field includes Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Luke Donald, Rickie Fowler, Bill Haas, Brooks Koepka, Ian Poulter, Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods.