SCOTTSDALE, Arizona (AP) — At the lowest point in an 18-month battle with injuries to his left knee and hip, Brooks Koepka wondered if he would ever come back, let alone regain the magic that had carried him to four major championships.
“It’s been a wild ride over the last year and a half and very frustrating,” Koepka said. “I had moments where I didn’t know if I would be the same, if I could even come back.”
Looking as good as ever for the second nine Sundays at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he was struggling for a win that not so long ago seemed impossible.
“I went through it mentally,” Koepka said. “I think that’s probably the hardest part, where you don’t know if you’ll ever be the same competitor you were. You’re going through some really dark places and it’s not fun to be in.”
It was a sunny and fun Sunday in the desert, especially on the 17th hole. There he chipped in for his second Eagle of the day from 32 yards to break a tie for the lead. A routine par on the 18th earned him a one-shot win.
Five shots behind Jordan Spieth and Xander Schauffele, who entered the round, Koepka shot a 6-under 65 and finished with a 19-under 265. He also won the first of his eight PGA Tour titles at TPC Scottsdale in 2015.
In 17th place for 334 yards, Koepka hit a fairway wood 305 yards from the fairway short and to the left of the green, then holed out to the biggest roar of the day from the 5,000-a-day crowd.
“I felt like the chip, if I caught it right on the edge, it would check me, and it worked perfectly,” he said. “Took a nice little right kick for myself and didn’t look anywhere but the hole.”
The crowd was a fraction of usual size but the largest on tour during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I missed the fans,” said Koepka. “Just being with fans is different. I love it. I’ve played my best golf with fans so I just have to find something when they’re not around.”
After the worst three missed cuts of his career, Koepka recovered from a bogey in the second with a 24-foot eagle putt on the third par-5 and birdies #13-15.
“I live for those moments where you get too close, you have to hit some quality shots and some quality putts,” Koepka said. “I just like to show off, I guess.”
Schauffele shagged the par-4 18th for a 71 to share second place with Kyoung-Hoon Lee (68). Fourth-placed Schauffele finished second at Torrey Pines last week.
“It was a good day to learn from a few mistakes,” said Schauffele. “I felt like I stayed pretty patient all day.”
Lee birdied a 17 to pull inside one of Koepka but drove the par-4 18 into the right rough and let his 34-foot birdie try to slip past on the high side.
“I’m pretty excited this week,” Lee said. “All good – irons, drivers, birdieing, everything – and lots of saves.”
Steve Stricker, the 53-year-old US Ryder Cup captain who was trying to become the oldest winner on the PGA Tour, finished with a 67 and tied for fourth with Spieth (72) and Carlos Ortiz (64) with 17 .
“It was a lot of fun,” said Stricker. “That’s why I play in these stills. I haven’t shown that in the past, but I’ve been playing better lately. I also feel a bit better physically.”
Spieth and Schauffele fought from the start, with Spieth cornering the first hole after nearly driving into a desert bush. They each had two bogeys on the front nine, with Schauffele making the only birdie between the two on the front at No. 9.
Schauffele and Spieth each went into the water at 17 to end their chances, then both shagged at 18.
Spieth shot 61 for a share of the lead on Saturday. The 27-year-old Texan, who has been winless since the 2017 British Open, has won 11 times in his first five seasons on the Tour – three of them Majors.
“Difficult start,” said Spieth. “I had to make the last two with one putt to not have more than 36 putts today. I felt like I hit good putts and as much as the lid was open on other days, today it was closed.”
James Hahn, three strokes ahead midway through the round, bogeyed four of the last eight holes for a 69. He finished 10th with 15 under.
DIVOTS: Runner-up Jon Rahm, No. 3 Justin Thomas and No. 6 Rory McIlroy finished 13th under. Former Arizona State star Rahm hit a 68, Thomas followed a 64 with a 72 in the third round, and McIlroy tied with Ortiz to set the best round of the day with a 64 in his first start in the event .