Brooks Koepka is one of the longest hitters in golf, but most weeks he is a distracted driver, his focus fading in and out like a radio signal on a tree-lined mountain road. But four weeks a year, during the majors, Koepka has no problem locking in his concentration.
“I can really tune in in the majors, and I have no idea why,” said Koepka, who has won three of them and only one regular PGA Tour event. “They really get my attention.”
On Sunday at the 100th P.G.A. Championship, Koepka, 28, could easily have lost his focus. He was being chased by the two players he had idolized growing up: Tiger Woods, 42, and Adam Scott, the 38-year-old Australian.
A hard-charging Woods had the full-throated support of the fans crammed like packing peanuts into the 200-acre parcel of property that is Bellerive Country Club. Scott, whose swing Koepka loved as a child, joined him in the final twosome, dueling Koepka down the stretch as if paying homage to the P.G.A. Championship’s earlier incarnation as a match-play event.
“Surreal, that’s all I can say,” said Koepka. He never wavered, closing with a four-under-par 66 to win his second major of the year and his third in 14 months. The two-time reigning United States Open champion, Koepka finished two strokes ahead of Woods, whose 64 equaled the low round of the day, and three ahead of Scott, who shot a 67.
Koepka’s 72-hole total of 16-under 264 bettered by one stroke the tournament’s absolute scoring record, set in 2001 by David Toms.
Koepka may have entertained a few doubts, but he never got sidetracked. How fine was Koepka’s focus? On the first, eighth and 12th holes, he stepped up and sank birdie putts as thunderous roars shook the course after electrical birdie strikes by Woods, the 14-time major winner playing one hole ahead of Koepka and Scott.
“I had to go get it and I tried,” said Woods, who had a large contingent of media members and distinguished people following him inside the ropes, including Michael Phelps, the 28-time Olympic medalist, and Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri.
“When he started making that run, it brought me back to when I was a kid and when I was watching him and you heard those roars,” Koepka said, adding, “Being a part of that as a fan is cool, and even when you’re playing it’s still pretty neat. It kind of pushes you to step up your game. I mean, you have to because you know he’s right there if you fall.”
This was Woods’s best showing in a major since his runner-up finish to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 P.G.A. Championship — though he did hold the final-day lead briefly at last month’s British Open on his way to a tie for sixth.
Woods’s second-place finish Sunday came in his 14th official start since January, when he returned from a last-resort lumbar fusion surgery. The operation, in April 2017, was his fourth lower-back procedure since April 2014, and as he recovered last summer, his competitive future was uncertain.
At this time a year ago, Woods had not been cleared to take full swings. His main goal then was not to resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s 18 major championships or Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories, but to live a pain-free life.
Asked on Sunday if he was surprised to have contended in two majors this year, Woods, who used to say that he entered every major expecting to win, replied: “I didn’t even know if I was going to play golf again. So, yeah.”
Given everything that he has been through, Woods’s five top-six finishes this year have left him feeling blessed, he said.
“I’m just happy to be back playing again, competing, grinding out there and working my way up the leader board,” Woods said last week.
After arriving at the tournament with muted expectations, Woods left without the Wanamaker Trophy, the heftiest trophy in golf at 27 pounds, but with a weighted question answered: Yes, he is officially back.
“I didn’t know when I was going to start this year and how many tournaments I was going to play, how well I was going to play,” Woods said. “I didn’t know what swing I was going to use, either.”
“So I had to kind of figure this out on my own,” he added, “and it’s been really hard. It’s a lot harder than people think. And I’m just very pleased at what I’ve done so far.”
Koepka, the first player since Woods in 2000 to win the United States Open and the P.G.A. Championship in the same year, had his own physical setback to overcome. At the end of last year, he sustained a wrist injury that kept him out of several tournaments, including the Masters in April.
“To think where I was four months ago, to come out here and play as well as I did, it’s really incredible,” Koepka said, adding, “I can’t even put into words how well I played, and I’m so excited for myself and my caddie and my team.”
With drives that averaged more than 324 yards on Sunday, Koepka overpowered the course in a way that left Woods slack-jawed. Of course, Woods has only himself to blame for golf’s millennial muscle men, led by Koepka. They have taken the fitness regimen that Woods brought to golf and supersized it; Koepka spent 90 minutes at a local fitness center on Saturday and on Sunday, getting in weight and cardio workouts before hitting the course.
“I played with him in a practice round and he was literally hitting it 340, 350 in the air,” Woods said. “And when a guy’s doing that and hitting it straight and as good a putter as he is, it’s tough to beat.”
After his final birdie, Woods took a vintage right uppercut into the air, and his caddie, Joe LaCava, interpreted that as a sign that the rejuvenated Woods felt up to the challenge.
“He’s pretty pumped for himself,” said LaCava, who was on Woods’s bag during his five-victory season in 2013. “He’s getting there,” LaCava added. “He’s close.”