By Andrew Both
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) – Bethpage Black turned into a beast on Sunday as a strong and gusty southerly wind whipped across the Long Island course, presenting Brooks Koepka with perhaps the biggest obstacle he needs to overcome in pursuit of victory at the PGA Championship.
After three days of relative calm, players’ skills and patience were being tested to the limit on a course that everyone except Koepka struggled to tame in relatively benign conditions over the first 54 holes.
With everyone in the final round having to deal with the difficult conditions, the strong winds raised the likelihood of some big changes on the leaderboard.
Koepka prepared to tee off at 12 under par, a record seven shots clear of fellow Americans Dustin Johnson, Luke List and Harold Varner III and Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond.
A victory would be Koepka’s fourth major in less than two years, following the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Opens and the 2018 PGA Championship.
There were some good early scores on Sunday morning before the wind whipped up, with American Beau Hossler shooting a six-birdie, four-bogey two-under-par 68.
But the course average was already three shots over the par of 70, and rising with each passing minute.
Phil Mickelson was among the casualties on Sunday, battling his way to a six-over-par 76.
“It’s certainly challenging but there’s nothing over the top because the greens are somewhat receptive,” he said, referring to the soft putting surfaces.
“I thought it was a great set-up to identify who’s playing the best.”
Mickelson finished at 12-over 292, but the American was a clear number one with the rowdy fans.
As boisterous as the spectators have been this week, one can only imagine what it will be like when Bethpage hosts the 2024 Ryder Cup, when Mickelson could be captain on the home team.
(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Pritha Sarkar)