Brooks Koepka v Tiger Woods: is it right to start drawing comparisons?

Brooks Koepka may not be Tiger Woods, but he bestrides the golfing landscape as himself, writes Will Trinkwon.

Will Trinkwon
Mon, 10 Jun 2019
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Should Brooks Koepka re-write the history books by winning the US Open for a third consecutive time at Pebble Beach this week, it will mark his fifth major championship triumph in his last NINE major starts. To put this potential achievement into perspective, that is the same number of majors belonging to Seve Ballesteros, Phil Mickelson and only one less than champion-turned-commentator Sir Nick Faldo, writes Will Trinkwon. 


 

Another major victory for Koepka this week would mark the second time in history that a golfer has won three US Opens in a row (the other being William Law Anderson, between 1903 and 1905). Put simply, if the World No.1 takes this one again then he will be playing golf on a level which scant players in history have ever reached.

That he might achieve this feat at the iconic venue of Pebble Beach is somewhat appropriate, for it was on this same links 19 years ago that arguably the greatest golfer of all time, Tiger Woods, claimed one of his own many slices of history when winning the 2000 US Open by an unprecedented 15 strokes.

Woods' victory then, which sealed the first leg of his historic ‘Tiger Slam’ (winning all four major championships in a row, though outside of the same calendar year), solidified his place as the dominant golfing force of his generation.

Grappling with a fired-up Woods down the stretch of a major became an opportunity that players both relished and feared. The former, because of the thrill of going head-to-head with what many already considered to be one of the best players in history, and the latter because you knew you were inevitably going to lose. Woods outmuscled his rivals from the tee and outputted them on the greens – there was seemingly no part of his game that was vulnerable.

Although it is perhaps premature, comparisons between Tiger and golf’s most recent headline figure Koepka are inescapable. Though he has yet to match Woods’s longevity, Koepka’s streak of winning four out of his last eight majors has (outside of the Big Cat himself) no immediate parallels in the modern game.

McIlroy’s hottest stretch, when he claimed the 2014 US PGA, Open Championship and the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, in quick succession - by way of comparison - lasted only a couple of months.

Jordan Spieth’s 2015-2017 run, the only other modern jaunt to justify a parallel with Koepka’s, felt more fragile than Brooks’ current dominance. Despite his reputation as a strong frontrunner, Spieth’s US Open victory owed more to his challenger, Dustin Johnson, imploding with an implausible three-putt than the Texan unambiguously outplaying him.

Spieth's 2017 Open win was similarly choppy – yes, that bounce back after the shanked drive on 13 was electrifying, but even when he was totting up the birdies, he never quite looked in full control.

By contrast, Koepka’s rally after a string of dropped shots at this year’s US PGA seemed inevitable. Even when the crowd started cheering for DJ, there was never going to be any winner but Brooks.

There is, however, a curious lacuna in Koepka’s resume. Not only is he unlikely ever to develop the sheer star power of a certain TW – an impossible task, but one which players like Spieth and McIlroy have made considerably more progress on – but his record in non-major competitions is conspicuously workaday compared with his play in the majors.

Outside of golf’s biggest events, he has, in half a decade, notched up only two other PGA Tour wins, the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open and the 2018 CJ Cup respectively, which obviously pales against Woods’s 66 PGA Tour wins outside of the majors and counting. It is also significantly short of Jordan Spieth’s eight, and a long way back of McIlroy’s 12.

For Koepka to be truly heralded as Tiger’s heir, he needs to improve his hit rate at regular PGA Tour stops. Then again, when you listen to him, it only really seems as though he gets himself pumped up for the majors. 

The obvious difference in brand power aside, this is perhaps the most important caveat to any burgeoning Woods-Koepka comparison. For all his showier achievements, it is easy to overlook the fact that Tiger also holds the record for the most consecutively made cuts on the PGA Tour.

Between 1998 and 2005, Woods went 142 events without being culled before the weekend. By stark contrast, Koepka’s longest streak is a ‘mere’ 20. The big man himself has spoken about his renewed determination, something he claims to have learned from Tiger, to “grind on every shot”, but it remains to be seen if he can carry his form into the rest of this season and beyond and develop a Woodsesque consistency.

Comparisons between Koepka and Woods are perhaps still premature, but that the parallels are being searched for at all is a testament to his indisputable pedigree.

Brooks Koepka may not be Tiger Woods, but he bestrides the golfing landscape as himself.   

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