Oosthuizen unable to stop Koepka in Phoenix

Feb 8, 2021 | Featured, South Africans abroad

With reporting from PGATOUR.com

A final round of level-par 71 on Sunday was not enough to keep Louis Oosthuizen in the top 10 of the PGA Tour’s Waste Management Phoenix Open as his 14-under-par aggregate left him five shots off the pace in a share of 11th.

Former world number one Brooks Koepka came through the field to snatch the victory by one shot from Korea’s Kyoung-Hoon Lee and fellow-American Xander Schauffele. Koepka’s closing 65 followed rounds of 68-66-66, and he chased down the two runners-up as well as another former world number one in Jordan Spieth who was looking for a first win since he won the Open Championship in 2017.

Things looked good for Oosthuizen as he made birdies on two and three to get into the conversation about potential winners. But he was unable to pick up another stroke until the 13th, at which point he had already made bogeys on 10 and 12. Two more drops came on 14 and 18, and a birdie on 15 was not enough to rescue a back nine which finished up at two over.

Koepka’s pedal-to-the-metal finish won him his eighth PGA Tour title after battling a left knee injury for much of the last year and a half.

Shaking off a bogey at the second hole, he made two eagles, went five-under for the last six holes for the second straight day, overcame a five-shot deficit, and won for the first time since the 2019 World Golf Championships-FedEx St Jude Invitational.

“It feels like it’s been forever,” he said after collecting his second Waste Management Phoenix Open title and breaking a streak of three straight missed cuts coming into the week.

Koepka had stem cell treatment on his left knee in 2019, slipped on wet concrete and re-injured the tendon late that year. He pulled out of the Presidents Cup, and was never healthy in 2020. The knee wasn’t torn enough to require surgery, but Koepka knew it didn’t feel right. He says the low point came in July as he shot a final-round 80 for a T62 finish at the Memorial Tournament. 

“I was in excruciating pain,” he said.

Unable to shift his weight, he overburdened his hip and tore his labrum. Still, he somehow got into contention at the PGA Championship in August, only to suffer a poor final round and finish T29. Something had to give. He skipped the FedExCup Playoffs and US Open for more rehab, including more stem cell therapy on his left knee and a cortisone injection in his hip.

“My knee, no matter how much work and pain I was doing with Derek, my trainer, it just felt like it wasn’t progressing,” Koepka said. “… But we stuck with it. Those dark places, a lot of tears, questioning yourself, and in dark places mentally. You’ve got to come out of that.”

When he finally did, he was healthy but found himself missing the energy of the fans. With no one to play for, he said, it felt like he was just out for a casual round.

“At the end of the day we are kind of entertainers,” Koepka said earlier this week. “You know, it’s felt like going to play at home with my brother or my dad or buddies or something like that, and I’ll be honest, when I go play with them, I play terrible as well. I need the mojo.”

At the Waste Management, where there were bigger galleries than at any time since last March – a maximum of 5,000 fans per day – the mojo was back. Not all the way, but it was a start. And Koepka felt it. After gritting his teeth, working through the pain, and biding his time, he used it to fuel his closing kick in sunny Scottsdale. Nothing is wrong with Brooks Koepka anymore.

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